Book Review: The Paradox Twins by Joshua Chaplinsky

“Chaplinsky has delivered an adventurous and unique book, full of dry humour, and realistic and flawed characters you can’t help but root for.”

 

The Paradox Twins by Joshua Chaplinsky - coverAs well as being Managing Editor of the massive online writing community LitReactor.com, Joshua Chaplinsky is also an accomplished author, having written and self-published cult classic Kanye West—Reanimator (first in 2015, then again in 2018) and the much-loved short story collection Whispers in the Ear of a Dreaming Ape (Clash Books, 2019). With the novella, Chaplinsky took a Lovecraft story and transformed it into a hilarious take on hip-hop and pop culture featuring our generation’s most enigmatic character. With the collection, he gave us thirteen very different stories, but each showcased an adventurous style in storytelling where nothing was beyond his reach. This combination isn’t for everyone; some readers prefer the same structure and familiar characters with every story. If readers open their minds to something different, something like this novel, we think they’d be pleasantly surprised.

The first thing to note about The Paradox Twins, is the unusual structure the book adopts. ‘Epistolary’ is the best word to describe it, with the entire narrative delivered through excerpts from three separate memoirs, multiple screenplays, letters, and online message boards. All of these seamlessly combine to tell the story of estranged twins Max and Albert Langley, who are forced to endure each other’s company when their emotionally-distant father is discovered dead in his front garden by neighbour Millie Blackford. Each memoir is written from the point of view of Max, Albert and Millie, and, while the recollection of certain events differs from author to author, the main story remains consistent. Indeed, it is the differences that drives the narrative forward, as we explore the natures of the relationships between each of our main characters.

It is clear that Max and Albert had a difficult upbringing with their father, a world-renowned physicist who casts a long shadow. While Max thrust out on his own at the earliest opportunity and forged himself a career as a novelist (specifically in the YA field), Albert remained in their hometown and took a job as a teacher. Sibling rivalry plays a major part in the story, with Albert openly resentful of Max’s success and even his appearance. While they were born identical twins, years spent apart seems to have favoured Max better than Albert. Combine both elements and the successful novelist has grown accustomed to a lavish lifestyle filled with adoring fans and one-night stands. When he returns home to the life he abandoned at the first opportunity, to a brother who has the sole responsibility of settling their father’s estate and a mother in a nursing home, Albert’s seething resentment comes to the surface.

Their strained relationship isn’t helped by the addition of Millie into the mix. At nineteen, she is a budding author in her own right and is starstruck by the return of her neighbour, who she is instantly attracted to, and who could offer her a helping hand with her own career. How Albert feels about Millie isn’t completely clear; he seems self-conscious when in her company and jealous of the attention she gives Max. But he adopts a more protective stance over her when he realises the intentions of his womanising brother, something which plays out well when a major revelation is made toward the end of the book. Millie isn’t totally blameless in all of this; she isn’t depicted as simply a “thing” for Max and Albert to fight over. Giving each of the characters their own memoir on the subject, and affording each of them their own unique voice, is both a great accomplishment for the delivery of the story, and a great idea to offer the story more dimensions.

The book doesn’t have chapters, as such. Rather, each new excerpt progresses the story, often offering a different point of view to the preceding action before moving the story onto the next point of contention. While Max seeks to exploit his father’s fate to mine it for a book about his family, and Millie—with a little help from Max—wants to pursue her own literary career, Albert only wants to close the chapter of his life with his domineering father and make a fresh start. While they become entangled in each other’s lives, through family drama and the uncovering of family secrets, they seem to be haunted by the past. Literally, if some of the recollections are to be believed. There are sightings of a strange figure throughout, and reports of conversations with ghosts. But, as is pointed out by our narrator in the footnotes, some of the passages are more believable than others, and some (especially the screenplay) are played purely for entertainment.

The book is described as experimental, which is fair, given the structure and the way it is presented (“a copyright infringing biographical collage that exists on the Internet, pieced together by an unknown auteur”). While the story could possibly have been delivered in a more straightforward fashion, it is this adventurous style and structure that gives it much of its charm. The family drama storyline, including rivalries and infidelities, could have been bland in the hands of a lesser storyteller. But Chaplinsky proves an adept observer of human behaviour, managing to imbue his characters with all-too realistic mannerisms and flaws. Adding the (possibly) supernatural elements, and the mystery of the emotionally-distant father’s private life, makes the story unpredictable and keeps the reader wondering how it will all play out. But the main draw are the characters and how their relationships unfold. Chaplinsky has delivered an adventurous and unique book, full of dry humour, and realistic and flawed characters you can’t help but root for. A rewarding reading experience that more than delivers on the promise made by his earlier work.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Clash Books
eBook: 256 (pps.)
Release Date: 6 April 2021

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