HERRICK’S END, a novel by T.M. Blanchet, reviewd by Jae Sutton
by T.M. Blanchet
Tiny Fox Press, 299 pages
reviewed by Jae Sutton
Born and raised in Boston, mostly by his mother—who is loved by everyone she meets—Ollie Delgato has had to endure multiple hardships. But he has a plan. At nineteen, he is admitted to Bunker Hill Community College on a full scholarship and gets a job at Bonfligio’s Caffe, which comes with an apartment located just above the shop. His main goals are to lose weight and fall in love. More than anything, he wants to “become the kind of person that guys wanted to hang out with and girls wanted to date. Seven months to achieve normalcy.” Which is why the weight loss program, Lighter Tomorrows, becomes a constant on his summer schedule.
Antonella (Nell) Cascone is the only girl who has ever given Ollie the time of day. They go on walks and platonic dates every week. When Nell shows up to both Lighter Tomorrows and the pair’s hangouts with bruises—which she covers with heavy sweaters and thick scarves—Ollie knows what kind of trouble she is in. It’s not until she goes missing that he realizes he should have done something sooner.
Ollie sees this opportunity as his “frozen river moment”—a scenario his mother always posed to him: “…you see a child flailing in a frigid, running river… What do you do?”
With the help of an ominous note from Ukrainian acrobat, Laszlo, Ollie dives in head-first to save Nell. He imagines her running into his arms and thanking him profusely all the way back to Boston. What he doesn’t expect is to end up in a world both the total opposite of the one he knows and reflective of it in several ways. He isn’t prepared for the rushing tide to swallow him whole, taking him on a winding path of self-reflection through his past heartaches and struggles, from who he is to who he wants to be.
Former reporter, editor, and award-winning humor columnist T.M. Blanchet’s debut novel, Herrick’s End (Book I of The Neath Trilogy), takes its readers on an adventure. It whisks them away in boats attached to large crows, which float on water or fly depending on the circumstances. They land in a place with wormwalkers that cling to the sky of the Neath, among people who look familiar but aren’t quite. Blanchet takes us to a space beneath our world that no one knows exists. Before reading, I believed this would be some version of Hell or the equivalent, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case.
The Neath is a sanctuary for survivors, for people who have escaped abuse and torture of any kind on the Brickside (a term used to describe the land above them). They choose whether to send their abusers to Herrick’s End or stay in the Neath. Herrick’s End is a title, a metaphor, and a looming mass of an institution that sits across the expanse of a large green lake separating it from the rest of this world. “An architectural phantom,” Ollie thinks. “A lichen-covered, decrepit, fifty-story dungeon, leaning precipitously forward as though it might topple at any moment.” It is the opposite of freedom.
No one gets out of Herrick’s End once they are in it, which ironically is like Hell. They are read by an ancient woman with grooves for skin and given their sentence, which lasts a long, dragged-out lifetime. Prisoners pay for their crimes tenfold. “Only what you owe,” they are told before being tossed down a numbered shoot that sends them to their floors and cells. There is no escaping, even for those who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The novel critiques real-life issues with a fantastical twist: the injustice of a black man being punished for an assault on a white girl in the next town, the fat kid who has been abused for most of his life by grown-ups and peers, the brutal living conditions of inmates—tortured to the point of brain failure and being pitted against each other for the entertainment of guards and a crooked warden.
Blanchet depicts the horrible beginnings and endings that occur when power is bestowed upon the wrong people. That even though this is a world where abusers pay their dues, there are flaws in the execution of justice (something Ollie is destined to right the wrongs of). The author poses the question of morality when it comes to saving those who have committed immoral acts. She presses the reader to look deep within, to know themselves with each difficult decision, just as Ollie is forced to.
After weird encounters with inanimate objects on the Brickside and a three-hundred-year-old-plus statue reciting a long riddle at him in the Neath, it is Ollie’s job to decipher these happenings to make the right decisions in moments where his life depends on it. Despite this, his journey is filled with positive discoveries. Ollie finds love, confidence, forgiveness, and family. Having spent most of his life abused and feeling alone, his purpose shines through his feats. Ollie is a natural-born leader and quick thinker, whose only opponent is essentially the voice in his head that reduces him to his weight.
Herrick’s End is not about being a hero or a victim, but surviving. Rising above or sinking beneath the tide together with the fight. Over the course of his journey, Ollie learns that the best love there is is self-love. Mottos he had used throughout his life transform from messages of self-loathing to those of hope and resilience. These sayings are so engraved in Ollie that the reader has no choice but to rejoice with each revelation that brings him closer to embracing who he is.
This ancient world provides an experience I have not found elsewhere—giving me a taste of something completely new, separate from the realms of fantasy I frequent. I often bask in succeeding in my predictions and while, in this case, my assumptions weren’t always right, the shocking events of Herrick’s End were welcome. Though the story’s messages and bigger picture are clear and concise, there is a complexity to their unfolding I have never seen that can only be explained when read. The novel follows its own path rather than the general rules of plot and device, and wields language that flutters, folds and twists off the page—leaving me pining for more.
As a reader, I see the clear hypocrisy hiding behind the half-truth of what it means to serve justice through the actions of those who carry it out. I find myself questioning my own morals while cringing and contemplating the treatment of the inmates. Is anyone better when the same abuse is being carried out? Is this really what they owe? Would I save the drowning child from the freezing river?
Through Herrick’s End, Blanchet sheds the materialistic, rips into the world the reader thinks they know, and creates a dark space where forgiveness, acceptance, and growth exists. It’s perverse and contradicting; time stretches like elastic, and everything about the human body adjusts for this new world. There are still questions unanswered, places unseen, and riddles undeciphered—Herrick’s End is only the beginning of a decades-long story.
Jae Sutton is an author and copyeditor at Susquehanna University. She holds an AA in Journalism and will complete her BA in Creative Writing and Publishing & Editing in December 2022. She works in Susquehanna’s Career Development Center as a front desk student assistant and at the Blough-Weis Library as a student manager. Outside of classes and work, she spends her free time stocking up on aromatherapy, drinking herbal tea, writing multiple stories at once, and binge-watching Run BTS and black 90s TV shows.
HERRICK’S END, a novel by T.M. Blanchet, reviewd by Jae Sutton
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