The Blot by Tom Neely

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The Blot
by Tom Neely
I Will Destroy You

Tom NeelyThere’s an allegory in here, somewhere—in fact, there are almost certainly several, all overlapping one another—there’s something about relationships, and inner-turmoil, and being an outsider in a familiar landscape. There’s plenty of things to read into the story—first time author, Tom Neely, makes sure of that. That the story is largely wordless only heightens the ambiguity of any message the author is quietly attempting to convey.

The Blot
thrives on such mystery. Anyone attempting to decipher some logical linear story from the book will likely find it as jumbled a mess as the pervasive splotch which gives the book its name. Fortunately, Neely’s first attempt is solid enough to work at face value. Taken literally, the book is a story of a bumbling everyman, caught up in a bad artistic trip of a nightmare, which clearly makes as little sense to him as to the readers—something of a psychedelic Night of the Living Dead, filtered through a surrealist nightmare landscape. On this level, the book is rather enjoyable, once you learn how to embrace its chaos, as the titular ink blot possesses and morphs, and unlocks all manner of strange new doors for our unassuming protagonist.

Tom Neely’s art stands in stark contrast to his storytelling, despite the Magritte-meets‘American Gothic’ front color. Inside, Neely reveals himself to be a strict disciple of E.C. Segar, from the beady eyes to the clunking brown leather shoes, with a few references to white-gloved silent cartoons thrown in, for good measure. In fact, it’s certainly worth mentioning that the male protagonist, after letting his hair down for the night, bears an uncanny resemblance Thimble Theater‘s female lead, Olive Oyl.

Neely has clearly honed his craft in years leading up to the creation of The Blot, and the payoff is deceptively simple line work, which is alternatively charmingly warm and terrifyingly beautiful, somehow perfectly complimenting his dissonant storyline.

The Blot is an extremely accomplished first book. Read it once for a hauntingly twisting story. You can devote all of the inevitable repeat reads to the dauting task of figuring out what it all means.

–Brian Heater

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