James Reich’s trip through the underworld of our psyche is painted with ornate tableau, a gallery that that allows the reader to fill in the blanks. Read it.
Set in an array of locations, James Reich’s The Song My Enemies Sing spends the majority of its time on Mars. Ray Spector, a science fiction writer, won a spot on a ship headed to Mars. While he travels through space, his realities shift from fading memories to surreal interactions and seemingly concrete moments in his life. He ultimately searches for meaning in life after writing; and we come into contact with a teenage Black Panther, a missionary, a television star, and a would-be terrorist. These characters and their stories overlap and blend into a mixture I continually likened to Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, but unlike Bradbury’s collection of stories, Reich lets his characters recur. Not only does the setting play an important part, but so does the state of mind.
Perceptions are as much a part of The Songs My Enemies Sing as place or character.
In the same way that Kubrick didn’t slow down or spell anything out for viewers of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Reich moves through the interloping stories in The Song My Enemies Sings expecting and trusting his readers to keep up. With science fiction and fantasy, it’s hard to strike a satisfying balance when world-building. While at times I think Reich doesn’t give us quite enough to orient ourselves while the setting changes, I do think the way he is blending physical description with character perspective gives us enough to move forward without getting too tripped up in the transitions.
The surrealistic nature woven into the prose is engaging and pushes the mysteries to the forefront of your mind.
The surrealistic nature woven into the prose is engaging and pushes the mysteries to the forefront of your mind. Moving through realities, I started wondering if they were even on Mars or if that was a secondary response from a mind slowly losing control and breaking. This sort of ambiguity in a novel would normally be irritating, but because Reich writes with such confidence, I found myself embracing the theories because it created a much richer reading experience.
There is a lot happening in The Song My Enemies Sing, but it never feels rushed or bloated. The moments of philosophical introspection blend in nicely with the overall plot of the novel, and it elicits further thought – both about how our perspectives shift, and about the book we’re reading. It’s not for a lazy reader, so if you’re thinking about picking it up, do so with the knowledge that it expects you to do some work.