Alice And Dorothy, the recent novel by JW Schnarr (published by Northern Frights Publishing) starts off with a drug overdose. Abandoned at the door to a hospital, the young protagonist Alice finds herself lost in a twisted, opiate dream of tea parties, rabbits and playing card people. This disorientating and violent opening sets the tone for the rest of the story: Alice And Dorothy plays out as a grotesquely violent gangland thriller, mixed with a heady dose of hallucinatory wonderland imagery.
As you might guess from the names of the two protagonists (as well as the publishing history of Northern Frights Press) there is a heavy degree of intertextuality at work in the story. Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and the story of Dorothy and her journey through the magical land of Oz (as first invented by Frank L Baum in 1900) are major influences–though it seems as though the story takes place in a universe where these stories don’t exist in common culture. The protagonists are not merely fans of their respective stories, but embodiments of them. Dorothy, for example, appears to have imagined the world of Oz all by herself, shortly before driving a car into a tornado in an attempt to escape the real world for the one of her imagination.
Surprisingly though, the tale does not dwell on Alice or Dorothy’s mystical backgrounds, returning from the initial drug-induced wonderland hallucination to a relentlessly grim real world game of cat and mouse. Every so often however–and particularly when violence explodes without warning onto the page–more cartoony, bizarre, impossible elements will creep in. In these segments the style is bright and exaggerated, returning to the mood and texture of the hallucination into which Alice fell in the opening chapter.
Intriguingly, it is often hard to tell exactly what is “real” and what is imaginary. There are hints that there was more to Alice’s initial trip into wonderland than was revealed to the reader, and this creates a sometimes-jarring sense of uncertainty, paranoia. Reading the book you feel as Alice does: uncertain of what is real and what is the influence of insanity. Are the things that Alice and Dorothy believe visions or delusions, real or imagined? There are compelling arguments for both.
So long as you have a stomach for violence, Alice And Dorothy is a compelling read, sprinkled with weirdness and the occasional flash of grim humour. It can be found on Northern Frights Publishing’s website at: northerfrightspublishing.webs.com and can also be downloaded from Amazon.