The Trials of Solomon Parker, by Eric Scott Fischl

34237441We’d like to think that, if we had the chance to do something over again, we’d do better the second time. This is what reincarnation is about, after all. But in Eric Scott Fischl’s The Trials of Solomon Parker, we see a pair of men who have the chance to take back their biggest mistakes only to see their lives go wrong in new directions.

Solomon Parker and Billy Morgan are tragic men of the old school. Parker lost his wife to madness and his son to a bad decision during a mine fire. His gambling addiction means that he’s always on the run from the people he owes money to. Morgan is caught between his government school education, his native heritage (unspecified), and his very strange father and uncle. For the first quarter of the book, from 1900 to 1917, we see their lives getting worse and worse (mostly Parker’s). But when they’re both at their lowest point, Morgan’s uncle, Marked Face, offers them a gamble.

The first time Parker gambles with Marked Face, he has no idea what the stakes are. He wins, but it’s clear that he was supposed to. The next thing he and Morgan know, it’s 1916, right before the fire that would kill Parker’s son. Over and over in The Trials of Solomon Parker, Parker gets the chance to make things right. He can remember how events went wrong before, so he knows what he has to do to change things. The problem is that the universe is messing with both men and it has a nasty sense of entertainment.

As the novel develops, Morgan (and we readers) learn more about how he and Parker got tangled up in an ongoing story that goes back a lot farther than he would have realized. We are introduced to a new mythology based on several North American tribes*. For every bad decision Parker or Morgan made, there’s another one behind it in this new mythology. Untangling it would mean going back to the beginning, but is it necessary? Parker and Morgan have to decide if their new lives are better or worse than their old, and how much they’re willing to risk for another gamble.

While other novels about reincarnation and section changes tend to be hopeful overall, The Trials of Solomon Parker has a more cynical view of human nature. Its darkness and refusal to make one set of lives better than the other had me thinking less about human nature, however, than about chaos. Making a different decision the second time around doesn’t mean that everything will be better; it just means that everything will be different. The Trials of Solomon Parker is a darkly philosophical novel, one that feels very honest for all its lack of hope.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 3 October 2017.

* Fischl states in the author’s note at the end that he was deliberately not using any one tribe’s stories, to avoid cultural appropriation. This brings up other questions, of course, but that’s a whole other blog post.

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