Ernie Woods’ debut novel One Red Thread is something of an unconventional hybrid. With a plot and themes built on the idea of time travel, it could be categorized as science fiction. But with three first person narrative points of view each subject to questions of reliability bolstered by several references to that seminal dramatic study of the reliable narrator Rashomon, literary fiction would seem a more appropriate category. Yet with a cast of characters, all of whom seem to have the ability to wander back and forth in time at will, magical realism of a sort may be a better fit. Finally, the story of a Southern man’s investigations into the secrets of his family’s history reeks with the traditions of Southern fiction, gothic, or otherwise.
Call it what you will, One Red Thread is unlikely to satisfy genre purists from any camp: too much literary pretension for the science fiction crowd, too much traveling back and forth in time for the literati. On the other hand, for readers willing to buy into the author’s vision the book has its enthralling moments.
One morning in the midst of life, an elderly man appears at the door of Eddy McBride, a middle aged architect, and announces “I’ve been waiting.” And then, perhaps not quite like Virgil leading Dante on his tour of the netherworld, this man sets McBride off on a tour of his family’s history. At first it seems to be something in his imagination, but it doesn’t take long before he discovers that he is actually present in the events he visits, at first as an observer, and eventually as a would be active participant. It is this old man who is identified as the “one red thread” that leads McBride through the labyrinth of the past, much as Theseus was led out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur by Ariadne’s gift of a ball of red thread.
While at first McBride’s time travels can be read as daydreams or what he calls “wool gathering,” it doesn’t take long before he is quite sure he is in fact moving back and forth in time. Moreover, it turns out that he isn’t the only one. Not only is the elderly man following him and making appearances every now and then, but his wife and business partner both take over the narration and talk of their own experiences. And a childhood friend who has returned home after a divorce also manages to do some time traveling of her own. “The present is so bright,” he tells us, “we can’t see anything else, but the past is still out there.”
As in many Southern family histories, the central concern is the revelation of dark secrets in that past. As in many time travel stories, the central question becomes whether the time traveler is able to effect changes in events. The two would seem to make for the ideal combination. Can past errors be rectified? Can loved ones be saved from disasters? Perhaps even more importantly, should they be. What would be the effect on the present reality were changes made to the past?
One Red Thread is not a page turner. Woods takes his time with the narration and, for the reader willing to travel along with him, the journey can be rewarding.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1440582734]