Disclaimer: I received a review copy of Triptych from the author with no expections. The review and opinion below is my own.SUMMARY
J.M. Frey's debut novel, Triptych, is an emotional journey that challenges human capacity for tolerance and acceptance against the backdrop of a near future setting.
Earth has become the last refuge of a race of bipedal aliens whose planet has been destroyed in a cataclysmic explosion. While the majority of people have been accommodating and accepting, with many nations formally working to integrate the aliens into Earth civilization, there still exists groups whose racism and bigotry have found new targets.
Enter two reasearchers with The Institute, Gwen Pierson and Dr. Basil Grey who are working with the alien Kalp to help reverse engineer some of the alien tech and acclimatize to each other's cultural norms. Frey's trio of characters are the emotional heart and soul of the story. Their journey from workmates to an "aglunate", a type of intimate social unit common on Kalp's home planet, is what drives the story. Not everyone is ready to accept this level of integration and conflict ensues.
While not the focus of the story, time travel plays a pivotal role in the story.
REVIEW & ANALYSIS
Author J.M. Frey successfully creates a complex world in which a lot of larger events unfold around her characters, yet always makes the story feel personal and intimate. Gwen, Basil and Kalp get caught up in a plot of intrigue as various memebers of the institute are targeted and a wedge is slowly driven between the more tolerant humans and their alien guests. Frey pulls no punches in her depiction of the humanity of Gwen and Basil as they come to accept Kalp, including some very graphic and touching sex scenes, or in the depravity and savagery of humanity as several of the aliens are the targets of vicious attacks in the novel.
I'm not sure if you can consider it a spoiler since the scene opens the book, but Kalp is killed in the first chapter at the hands of The Institutes' paramilitary security force. I felt that the scene, while powerful and action-packed, undermines the emotional resonance the scene might have otherwise had if it had come later in the novel. Perhaps after the reader had an opportunity to know the characters and appreciate what was at stake. Granted this is a time travel novel, so a bit of non-linear narrative is par for the course. While the scene is later revisited from Kalp's point-of-view it somehow feels truncated and lacking in the emotion of the first scene.
Personally, my favorite chapters were the ones told from Kalp's point of view. We feel Kalp's pain acutely at his loss of his homeworld and his consuming loneliness before he is accepted by Gwen and Basil. Meanwhile his attempts to understand human culture and not offend his hosts are both heartbreaking and amusing by turns. Frey has managed to create in Kalp a wholly believable and touching character that is both alien in his biology and sexuality, and yet immediately recognizable and accessible for readers. Kalp as a character will remain with readers long after they finish the book.
As for the time travel itself, it is evident through out the novel that the technology can be used to alter the time line. At a critical juncture in the novel when Gwen and Basil could conciveably use the device to try to influence the outcome of Kalp's death they consciously choose not to. While I respect the decision by the characters and by extension, the author, I am disappointed that it was never even explored as a point of conflict in the story. After Basil's viceseral reaction to Kalp's death in the opening scene I would have expected him to at least be tempted by the possibility that he might change that outcome when he had the chance.
My only other minor quibble with the story was the lack of sense of place I felt during the first half of the book. Gwen, who is revealed to be Canadian, and Basil who is English, work at The Institute that seems to be a mix of nationalaties. Until Kalp asks to go to London to see the London Eye, I had assumed it was set in North America, so few were the cultural clues that they were living in England up until that point. It neither undermines the story or the plot, but did leave me a bit disoriented when the location came into play late in the novel.
Triptych is a great read filled with plenty of action and engages the reader in thought provoking exploration of both tolerance and hatred that exists in the world. Ultimately it is a hopeful novel about the potential for humanity to rise above its differences, but recognizes that many base impulses stand in our way. I look forward to reading more from J.M. Frey in the future.
R E L A T E D L I N K S
JM Frey's website - includes information on Triptych and other works as well as her blog.
©2011 by A.W. Taylor
Review Posted: 2011-11-05
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