I like the word innovative in place of experimental, especially when talking about fiction and more especially when taking a better look at Timothy Gager’s novel The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan.
Like any good innovative work, the novel has an immediate, almost built in, structure option – therapist Bill Sloan’s Thursday appointments. Through this prism, Gager imagines and offers us a look at a variety of extreme characters, each reflecting in some way parts of ourselves, if we’re reading closely.
However, it’s not excessively innovative (that can certainly happen) as much as it allows innovation to provide the looking glass into a central humaneness for us all.
Take the character of Kate Hummingbird Warrior, for example. Kate is a spiritual healer who brings with her an optimism that shines against the backdrop of the overall novel, and, particularly, Sloan’s own nefarious ambitions. During the course of her time with Sloan, she begins to realize deeper issues, more or less on her own. With Kate it seems Gager is saying that amid all the other insanity and longing in the world, there is a part of us all that has the potential to see the goodness and capacity for goodness in ourselves and each other. Likewise, though guided (as best as Sloan can) she is alone in her recovery in many ways, much as we all are when facing moments of critical revelation.
This and details about the other of Sloan’s patients (each chapter begins with a new Thursday appointment and provides that nice innovative structure mentioned earlier) is deep stuff, but Gager wisely lends these ideas to a darkly comedic tongue and razor sharp eye for the humanity resting just beneath the wailing.
For me the multiple character views, Sloan’s own inner workings, and the nod to identity disorder inherent in this structure is the crux of Gager’s accomplishments with this novel. An author could have easily opted to explore the many layers offered in such a novel through only one or two characters. We’ve seen it done many times, and done well, at that. But Gager didn’t take the common and mostly more comfortable route in showing his readers that splintered mirror that is all of our own identity disorders. In good form, he wrote a book with as many characters and individual problems as there are ideas for how we collectively find ourselves in such places. I like the risk, and it’s one that pays off.
So where does this leave our deliciously dislikable Bill Sloan? How does Sloan fit into the book as, in fact, its core?
I like to think Sloan is our lesser angel, but an angel all the same. Crude, manipulative, prideful, lazy, backstabbing, and on and on. A lesser angel because there’s room to grow in so many important ways. And therein lies Sloan’s true beauty, our true beauty. Potential.
The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan is a wildly imagined ride that, to this reader, reflects on some level our own journey, our shortcomings, our hopes, our black eyes, and our capacity to love and be loved. It’s an ambitious novel, in this case, and beautiful in its own way because of that ambition.