I’ve made a minor hobby of reading first novels. That’s because there’s something uniquely appealing about them. The author’s major literary influences and most essential life themes trumpet themselves in an audible way, and that speaks volumes about who the author is. By their third novel or so, most authors get craftier at hiding behind their prose.
After following the writing career of Thomas Hughes for more than two decades, I’m delighted to announce that his first novel has arrived; or more aptly put, it’s come squealing into the station on roller-coaster tracks. Written with passion, energy, and an excess of imagination, I Become You is an impressive, complex, highly entertaining novel by Hughes, a New York–based writer whose eclectic literary influences range from Kurt Vonnegut, Thomas Mann, and Philip K. Dick, to Goethe and Alastair Reynolds.
Hughes describes his rollicking, funny, twisted adventure story as a Bidungsroman, a coming-of-age novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education. Only the “person,” in this case, is a telepathic sheep — the product of a science experiment gone horribly wrong — who has the ability to get inside one’s mind and carry on soundless conversations. The sheep can relive one’s memories and traumas, untangle one’s demons and inner voices, and experience one’s emotions. Not surprisingly, the animal’s strange gift enables others to see themselves in new, liberating, and often disturbing ways.
Through the likable but odd narrator, we follow the creature’s life journey against the backdrop of crumbling mansions, frightening laboratories, circus freak shows, and the landscapes of old Europe. The sheep discovers the essence of family, human relationships, sexual aberrations, mental illness, profound emotions, and ultimately the meaning of life and death. As the sheep telepathically imparts at one point, “It breaks my heart to watch you all stumble over your senses in an effort to understand the exact nature of the physical plane in which we all exist, which is my curse. How pathetically sad and yet majestically valiant are all our stumblings.”
If you want to get an idea of how fun this book is, visit the website, www.ibecomeyouthebook.com, which includes an animated cartoon, an interactive quiz, and excerpts from the book read by the author himself.
I enthusiastically recommend this book to all who are looking for an entertaining, literary read filled with colorful characters, bizarre adventures, and mind-bending turns. Hold on to your seats, because I Become You will knock you off balance and spirit you off on a twisted, slightly terrifying, often hilarious ride through human consciousness, where magic, evil, hope, fear, love, empathy, nihilism, and faith populate the internal landscape of Hughes’s characters — all seen through the eye of an intuitive empathic Frankensheep. Suspend all judgment and surrender to the dreamlike journey. It’s unforgettable.
Returning back to the idea of first novels, what does this one tell us about Thomas Hughes? That he’s a seeker with enormous talent, unafraid to take on the biggest themes known to literature. Hughes has burst onto the literary scene with enough originality, sparkle, and outrageousness to fill several more volumes. I can hardly wait for his next book.