Title: This Never Happened
Author: R. Tim Morris
Publisher: Endever Publishing Studios
Publication Date: 30th March 2017
Certificate: 15 (adult themes, language, drug use)
Summary: The peculiar story of Cepik Small (known as “Epic”) and his journey to find a sense of belonging in his world. Epic is unique in that he suffers from a cognitive disorder known as prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize and remember faces, which only adds to his feelings of disconnectedness.
Just as Epic begins seeing a new and unorthodox therapist, he also meets the bold and blithe Abigail Ayr. Then there are the questionable changes to his prescription meds, the ramblings of his dying father, his immersion into a virtual reality game, and the ghostly shadows he begins seeing everywhere. And when a novel found on the subway begins to strangely mirror events in Epic’s own life, his mysteries quickly and uncontrollably begin to unravel. Winding through a patchwork of allusions and clues, readers will slowly piece the truth together as Epic does, while simultaneously considering the possibility that our protagonist might actually be losing his grip on what’s real and what’s not.
Morris’ first novel with Endever is a moody, atmospheric work of what is generally termed ‘speculative fiction’ these days; also called ‘literary science fiction’, it’s basically sci-fi for people who say they don’t read sci-fi. ‘This Never Happened’ is certainly not genre fare, although it has its roots firmly in noir pulp fiction; Morris is less concerned with the usual genre trappings of mainstream sci-fi/fantasy — there are no aliens or ray guns here — and more concerned with the human condition, and the effect that extraordinary circumstances can have upon ordinary people just struggling to get by.
Morris begins with possibly the most relateable premise in fiction: the question, “Why am I here?” Specifically, Cepik ‘Epic’ Small is haunted by the nagging feeling that he was born at the wrong time, in the wrong place. It’ s a simple but effective way to launch into the story, and it drives the narrative all the way through: a golden thread linking the myriad, often bizarre, experiences that befall Epic, and the eccentric cast of characters surrounding him. The book never lets go of this theme, using elements of science fiction to throw light on what is a very common facet of the human condition.
Self-doubt and self-questioning is what sets humans apart from the animals. We have the luxury (perhaps more so in developed countries) of pondering our existence and exploring our place in the universe, and the questions we ask ourselves can have positive and negative outcomes; sometimes they lead to religion, sometimes to love, sometimes to drugs, sometimes to extreme experiences, and sometimes into depression.
Morris communicates Epic’s depression with delicacy and skill; the prevailing tone of the novel is one of melancholy, reflected in the very fabric of his version of New York and the awkward interactions Epic has with the people around him. The impact of Epic’s depression is deepened by the second-person narrative viewpoint, with the reader constantly being reminded that ‘you’ are suffering, ‘you’ don’t belong, and ‘you’ aren’t sure what ‘your’ purpose in the world is.
This is not to say that ‘This Never Happened’ is a depressing read. Far from it. Morris has a streak of wicked humour in him, and his observations and similes are often laugh-out-loud funny. He revels in the bizarre and off-kilter, often pitching the reader into an instensely uncomfortable situation and twisting the screws like a literary Larry David to see how far he can go until something snaps.
The light and the dark play off each other, weaving together in a gradually emerging tapestry that unveils the story behind Epic’s life and the reason for his sense of not-belonging. Once the big reveal arrives there is something of a jarring change of tone, as if we are being catapaulted, along with Epic, into another story — but it’s entirely possible this is Morris’ intention. He certainly doesn’t want the reader to feel comfortable, constantly twisting the narrative and lobbing in seemingly portentious coincidences that turn out to be red herrings alongside the real portentious coincidences, and this can end up as frustrating. It’s probably best to strap in for the ride at the beginning, and accept whatever twists and turns Morris decides to take, because the overall journey is definitely worth the price of entry. There are plenty of “I-never-saw-that-coming” moments, and a final scene that begs more or less instant re-reading from the beginning.
How much you enjoy Morris’ writing will depend on your expectations, so allow me to set them: expect a slow-burner of a novel, crammed with detail, set in a lovingly-rendered noir version of New York City, with tight characterisation and and kick in the tail. See it through, even in the quiet stretches, and you will be rewarded.
For fans of: Philip K Dick, Douglas Adams, anything noir-flavoured, and crispy bacon.