T.L. Hines is known for writing what’s called “noir bizarre” stories. Faces in the Fire is about tattoos and a supernatural hit man; The Unseen tells the story of a young man who lives in tunnels and the spaces above office cubicles. Two others I haven’t read are about a woman battling living shadows trying to take over her town, and a woman who has died and come back to life three times.
Yes, indeed: noir and bizarre. Some of the most deeply arresting and thought-provoking novels I have read, you would not expect them to be published by Thomas Nelson, a leading Christian publishing firm. But they are. And they are a marvel to read.
In The Falling Away, published in 2010, the hero Dylan Runs Ahead is a Crow Indian who’s returned from military service in Iraq with serious physical injuries. He’s hooked on painkillers. The voice of his long missing sister Joni speaks to him inside his head. He’s got issues, major issues.
What he doesn’t know is that he’s a chosen, one of those chosen and created by God who is marked for special things. Unfortunately, he’s caught up in a drug deal gone bad, he’s on the run from both thugs and authorities, and he runs right into the hands of a commune called the Hive that is an anti-industrial community that grows its own food organically and (that already trite word) sustainably. The leader of the Hive, a man named Li, knows what Dylan is and wants what Dylan has.
Another group, although “group” is too strong a word, called the Falling Away has sent a young woman named Quinn to find and rescue Dylan before he’s destroyed. Quinn is an “embedder” – she inserts sharp objects and pieces of metal like paper clips beneath her skin to relieve her internal pain and pressure.
These characters, these heroes of the story, are broken people, struggling with their own problems and neuroses. Yet they are the people called upon to do some very unusual things. Christians will recognize this, of course, even when the brokenness is presented in some of its more extreme forms like drug addiction and embedding.
But that is T.L. Hines and what he does in his stories – as Flannery O’Conner once said, you have to draw large pictures for the nearly blind and shout for the nearly deaf. Hines works at the edges, and even though his “noir bizarre” stories seem extreme, their very extremity shocks the reader into recognizing what it is to live and believe in a broken world.
It’s a rather remarkable thing that almost the first half of the novel takes place in the cab of a pickup truck. The narrative and action is so tightly woven that the reader doesn’t even realize it until the plot moves into another phase. The writing is that good.
Another unusual twist is the Hive. In today’s books and films, the villain is usually a nameless and, if I can be redundant, evil corporation. It’s rather refreshing to find the villains ensconced inside of an organic food commune that is actually an infestation of the demonic. But that’s also what Hines does in his stories – challenging the reader to examine personal and cultural icons.
Having now read three of his five novels, I can say that Hines doesn’t tell conventional stories. But he tells stories that need to be told, and he tells them in ways that provoke and offend because they need to provoke and offend. To read a novel by T.L. Hines is to be shaken out of emotional and spiritual complacency. Reading his stories, these stories at the edge, forces us to confront the convention and conventional in our own lives.
He also tells wickedly good stories.
T.L. Hiness web site.
My review of The Unseen.
My review of Faces in the Fire.