Friday, November 4, 2016

Josiah Bancroft Ascends Mere Storytelling

Senlin, a mild-mannered school teacher, is drawn to the Tower of Babel by the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The ancient and immense Tower seems the perfect destination for a honeymoon. But soon after arriving, Senlin loses his young wife, Marya, in the crowd. 

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through slums and theaters, prisons and ballrooms. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find Marya, Senlin will have to do more than survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

I Believe my exact words were; 

There are no friends in the tower. The Sink of Humanity, The Tower of Babel, houses within its ringdoms the likes of thieving pirates, cut-throat murderers and condemned hods—and no one ever leaves. The tower takes from you all that you have, uses what's left of you for its purpose—And the tower is not finished with us yet.

Thomas Senlin has saved for years for this trip, to fulfill his dream of entering the Tower of Babel and making his ascent into the whimsical world of adventure and romance the tower offers the every day fellow, as described in his Everyman's Guide to the Tower of Babel. He brings with him his trusty guide and his new bride who's bright and bubbly personality could not be further from Senlin's own quiet, socially awkward, troglodytic existance. 

When it comes to being a new husband, Senlin seems slightly unsure of just what to do with a wife and the awkward tension is apparent from scene one. Senlin married way above himself and he knows it, his friends know it, and we, the readers know it. The only one who seems unperturbed by that fact is his doting wife Marya who enthusiastically coerces her husband into having some sort of social life.

It's almost too difficult to believe the pair could have possibly come together, Senlin's own confusion to his marital luck muddling the matter further, and the connection between the two is, at first, a bit... lacking. I was almost unsure of whether I wanted to continue. I was intrigued by the mystery surrounding the disappearances linked to the tower, and I absolutely wanted to find out what was going on, but as for Senlin and his missing bride... I wasn't terribly concerned with reuniting the two. I almost felt that Senlin would be better off dropping the matter entirely and going home. He was clearly too uncomfortable with continuing on alone and way too indecisive to make the next move and a happy ending for the newlyweds seemed terribly unlikely. I really didn't think he had it in him, and I wondered, how fascinating can a story be with an introvert awkwardly going out of his comfort zone and bumbling his way through a mystery he couldn't possibly put a level head into solving?

The answer? Tremendously fascinating.

Here's the thing, and here's the genius behind Senlin Ascends—Thomas Senlin awakens.

Picture Senlin as a big toddler learning his lesson about touching a hot stove. He is naive, he is innocent, he has yet to feel the stinging pain of his misguided curiosity and all the years he's spent studying the written imaginations of supposed 'traveled men', and all the hopes and beliefs he'd built in his mind into truths and dreams are all about to unravel and come crashing down on him.  

Bancroft pulls us into his tale leaving us just as in the dark and unaware of the towers true purpose as our unlikely hero. We are fed the same facts, the same dreams and wonders as Senlin finds listed in his guidebook. His naivety radiates from his every action, his doubts and his struggles appearing, at times frustratingly, childlike. Senlin is the epitome of innocence and I very quickly realized what felt like detachment—the strange apprehension toward Marya and the doubts he expresses in seeking out answers to her disappearance—was merely the outer shell of what Senlin allows the world to see of him. Perhaps even the way he sees himself. Without his wife to douse his fears with laughter, without his students to look upon him with adoration, reminding him that their young minds require his guiding hand to mold them, without money in his pockets and no clear destination to chart his path, what was he? 

His personality reflects his current level of maturity. At the base of the tower, he is the equivalent of a young child, alone, confused, and without the necessary street smarts to guide him. As Senlin makes his through the strange levels of the tower, we, as readers, watch him grow as he faces struggle after struggle, his whole world unraveling around him. The deeper we go into Senlin's ascent, the more we learn about Senlin's loss and his story. The more Senlin is forced to broaden his mind and face the truths of the tower, the closer he comes to finding his place among the ringdoms and we find there are as many layers to Senlin as the tower itself. And we do not yet know how high that tower climbs...

Every encounter has a purpose, characters entering the story to help move Senlin's growth along, and each new tower dweller is just as fascinating and unique as the next. Every one of them has a story to tell, and whether they decide to reveal their estranged past or not, it's apparent every character is driven by their own pasts and desires. There are no wasted words in this book.

Marya is truly the greatest of mysteries, she is a beautifully willful woman who cannot be stirred from her course. Headstrong and fantastically devious, and though we don't get to know her full story, the parts that are revealed are extremely telling of her strength and cunning. I still hold out hope that she will be the one to rise against the workings of the tower and rescue Senlin. 

There is one moment in Senlin Ascends, one single instance where Senlin finally lets it all go, when we finally see the man Marya fell in love with, a part of him he had never revealed before, and that's when I fell in love with this story. Senlin isn't the cold hearted, socially inept failure chasing shadows to spare himself the embarrassment of returning home to explain he'd somehow lost the only woman he could find to marry him. He is a man who has lost everything. His very existance having revolved around the woman he loves, the woman who gives him life, something he himself could never have obtained without her by his side and though he may not where his heart on his sleeve, he does care more deeply than one would, at first glance, believe.

With Senlin Ascends, we are not simply reading a story about a man and his tragic, fantastical trial. We are traveling alongside him, learning and growing and seeking truth for truth's sake, together holding out hope that the tower has not fully soiled every soul that has lost its way in its ringdoms, and it is a beautiful way to make a journey. 

Senlin Ascends blossoms into an epicly heroic tale of love, loss, devotion, betrayal, and awakening to the bitter truths that lay hidden. The Books of Babel are masterfully crafted, Josiah Bancroft's prose, at times, moving me to tears at its beautiy and simplicity, his insight simply awe-inspiring. His web of words has caught me and I am held helpless against its pull to read more.

About the Author
Josiah is a freelance writer, poet, and musician. His work has appeared in dozens of journals and magazines, including Slice Magazine, BOMB Magazine’s: Word Choice, Rattle, the Cimarron Review, the Cincinnati Review, and Gulf Coast. In 2010, Josiah's book of poems was a finalist for AWP’s Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. The poet Alberto Rios had this to say about his collection of poems, The Death of Giants:
"These are poems of constantly surprising adventures for the reader. The title poem sets the tone, marvelous in its pragmatism and equanimity, and the poems benefit from this start. Things happen, and things get done because of that, but what is so easily said is the precise source of wonder in these pieces, in that even the most complex and strange occurrences are simply dealt with."

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1 comment:

  1. A great review, I loved it too and I think we saw similar themes in Senlin and in Marya!