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"Maze of Blood" by Marly Youmans is a visceral shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging at the imagination that examines the results of thwarted dreams and desires in the life of a young writer.

Book Review: ‘Maze of Blood: A Novel’ by Marly Youmans

Named as one of their Favorite Books of 2015 at Books and Culture Magazine, Maze of Blood (Mercer University Press, 2015), is a visceral shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging at the imagination that examines the results of thwarted dreams and desires in the life of a young writer. Set in rural Texas in the 1930’s, Marly Youmans uses language as both scalpel and wand to conjure a place and time as real as the abandoned oil wells and as otherworldly as the magical lands of the great epic poems.

Excerpt: What did you need of hell when you had Texas? Why, he had the whole weight of the Lone Star State on his back like some kind of crazy sheriff’s badge . . . all those Texans with their tidy lives, their distrust of stories not like their own. Everything might have been different if he had gone away, but he hadn’t, somehow couldn’t go. And yet he couldn’t bear to become the little thing people here wanted him to be. Well, there was no use festering over it. He wouldn’t be small. They couldn’t make him.

To open a book by Youmans is to leap from a cloud and ride the thermals to places unknown yet somehow familiar. Her novels follow no formula or conventional plot twists and still evoke a shared humanity that is weirdly comforting. Each carefully chosen word strikes a precise note and traps the reader in the orbit of whatever tale Youmans cares to spin.

Based on real-life pulp writer and creator of Conan the BarbarianMaze of Blood, Robert E. Howard, Conall Weaver is born into this landscape and into the silent battle of wills between his sickly mother and country doctor father. As Conall grows up, and his mother succumbs to the full effects of tuberculosis, Youmans unwinds her tale backward unveiling the birth and shaping of an artist amidst unlucky circumstances.

His sense of duty to his consumptive mother is a yoke he can’t escape, and his father isn’t strong enough or determined enough to rescue him. His influential mother is fundamental to his growth as a storyteller and less than enthusiastic about his pursuit of a life to call his own.

Conall’s writing continues to develop while he battles his own awkwardness in romance and the harsh realities of the publishing world. Fulfillment of his hopes and dreams proves elusive, and the reader feels his hunger. With insightful, illuminating illustrations by frequent collaborator Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Youmans’ prose evokes the physical sensation of Conall’s longing, of his artist’s sensibilities and his valiant battle to be himself in the land of oil workers and ranchers.

His survival depends on living the life he wants and leaving the life he has, neither of which seem possible. Yet Youmans ultimately celebrates Conall’s life as a joyous birth of creativity from mysterious sources. If you’ve ever felt out of place or trapped by circumstances, Conall’s life as a determined writer in the dry Texas scrublands will make you thirst for lost dreams and the deep breath of liberty to pursue what you love. And Marly Youmans’ prose will make you wish she was telling your story.

[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0881465364]

About Suzanne Brazil

Suzanne M. Brazil is a freelance writer and editor living in a recently empty nest in the suburbs of Chicago. Her work has been featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Writer's Digest, The Chicago Daily Herald and many other publications. She is a frequent blog contributor and is working on her first novel.

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