I have to admit that Zack Parsons’s Liminal States was a bit of a slog for me. It was interesting, but because of the nature of the story I had a hard time bonding to the characters. This book is also written in a deliberately semi-mystical way so that it’s hard to tell what’s really going on. It feels like the story of three people caught up in something they don’t understand and, for some reason, don’t really try to understand. A lot of plotting and scheming that would have been interesting to read remains frustratingly off-stage.
Our first main character is Gideon Long who, after a botched train robbery in 1872, discovered a pool that inexplicably resurrects him when he falls in as he’s dying from a gunshot wound. Meanwhile, our second main character, Warren Groves, discovers that Long was attempting to start an affair with his wife. When Long returns to town after his rebirth, he curses Groves with immortality, too. Groves uses his new life to hunt down and kill Gideon more than a dozen times. This carries on until Gideon and Warren make a pact, prompted by the discovery that the pool not only resurrects but also spits out duplicates. By 1890, there are a dozen or so Gideons and Warrens.
The second section of the book continues in the 1950s. It’s clear not only that there is something sinister about the pool and the resurrections and duplications, but also that something is going awry with history. The Gideons are collaborating to create a massive corporation, one so powerful that it can influence the American government. The Warrens are a mix of violent ne’er-do-wells, alcoholics, and cops. And a third main character shows up, an inexplicable copy of the woman the original Gideon and Warren loved. There are multiple plots (not in the sense of story, but in the sense of schemes) going on but since our chief narrator at this point is a copy of Warren who doesn’t have access to the inner circle, it’s very hard to know what all is going on.
The last third of the book is even fuzzier but also more interesting. It’s 2006 and it’s clear that all the schemes are coming to an unexpected head. Nothing it going the way anyone could have predicted, but the situation looks an awful lot like the end of the world is on its way. Through our third main character and new narrator, a copy of the woman Gideon and Warren loved named Polly, we learn that the pool–the center of everything–is not so benevolent as the Gideons and the Warrens believed.
It took longer than I expected to get through this book because I kept wondering where it was all going, wondering which of the plot threads was the most important, wondering what was really going on. I still have a lot of questions about what really happened in this book and, more importantly, why it all happened that way. This book would probably bear a second reading to really figure it all out. But I can’t really summon the will to read it again, to be honest.
I suppose that says it all.