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In-Depth Critique

***Spoilers Ahead***

MORI: The Lost Ones Volume 1

by Michael Seagard

Setting, Plot, and Conflict

Miles "Mori" Morhart -- a well-funded, fairly successful yet unsatisfied, 40-something-year old family man from Texas -- implodes his life, liquidating his assets, abandoning his wife and daughter, and completely disconnects, "retiring early" in Los Angeles, California to drink until he dies. Literally drowning in guilt, sorrow, and all of the darkness that comes with his particular life choices, Mori spends the better part of a year continuously drunk and/or high on weed and completely alone, that is until a disembodied voice begins visiting with multiple warnings: First, it warns of a "tear in his psycho-spiritual membrane" that without fixing via "Divine Illumination" will lead to an endless spiritual schizophrenic-like hell; Second, the voice urgently inquires after a disappeared and endangered woman and her daughter who Mori might unwittingly have information about.

Rattled by the dire situations presented and simultaneously questioning his sanity, Mori takes a chance and confides in his neighbor, Sofie. Then, "the lines begin to converge." Mori, Sofie, and a few curiously interconnected and open-minded individuals find more and more bizarre synchronicities in their lives validating the voice's warnings as they investigate previously unnoticed layers of reality in the hopes of answering their greatest life questions, of solving the mystery surrounding the disappeared women, and of finding a spirit-saving redemption for Mori. But, the deeper they dig, the darker their world becomes and the more they realize that they've attracted the attention of someone - or something - malicious.

There is so much to discuss about this book, that it's hard to find a starting point. So, I'll try to take it one story element at a time…

The majority of this volume is set in Los Angeles. I personally have only been a handful of short times to LA, so I can't really speak to the accuracy of its depiction. Michael Seagard does live there, though, and on his website (https://ms.test-launch.com/), he has plenty of extras including a virtual map where one can see exactly where the events supposedly played out (I don't think it's entirely necessary, but it was fun to explore the differences in what I imagined and what he based it on after finishing the book.) I will say, that the bizarre, often trippy nature of the city feels very authentic and plays well into the blending of a gritty urban world and magical realism. It works very well in my opinion.

Plotwise, choosing my favorite section of the book is really hard; There are too many moments that speak so well about the characters and how they have shaped their journey that I appreciate. I did, in particular though, enjoy the part where everyone is going through Sofie's father's research boxes, and Sofie and Mori share their first kiss. Of course, the romantic in me just swoons over any blossoming, unlikely romance, but what actually caught my attention was how Mori reacted. His character growth in that moment -- going from "I can't believe this is happening and even though I want it to, I'm not deserving of it" to the heartbreaking line "I don't want you to regret me" to the realization that maybe he isn't the worst human being when he thinks of how Sofie sees him-- is so emotionally raw and so gives the main character a glimmer of redemption.

The most satisfying section of the book is when everyone finally settles in at Sofie's to watch the Chosen Episode, or more so to check the specific video frames within the episode for the supposed message while avoiding said malevolent force. Up until this point, most everything usual had been circumstantial; The coincidences had been uncanny, yet they weren't quite solid enough in reality to confirm that it's not just the drugs or the characters reading into unusual chance occurrences. For the first time in the book, multiple characters could confirm with physical evidence in hand that the bends and twists in their realities were actually happening, and thus providing a breath of relief to us readers wondering if it's all just a massive schizophrenic episode of one very questionable narrator.

I don't think there was really a "worst section" in this book -- the unfolding conflicts and character journeys were fantastically entertaining while also tightly knitted and easy to follow -- but I will say that while I understand the format of the logbook and trust that the gaps will be filled in future volumes (this is the first of a seven volume series to come...), I found the ending to be a little bit of a cop-out. Of course, I sat at the edge of my seat waiting to see what was down in the hell hole where Mori's charred body would eventually be found, but of course it doesn't make logical sense for the writer of said logbook to stop and write his findings, then burn. As a stand-alone novel, I am very disappointed that it comes to a screeching halt right before the climax leaving more questions posed than answered, but I'm keeping an open mind. The book was crafted so deliberately that I can only imagine the sudden cut-off as intentional. Hopefully, come the next installation or when we're able to look at the entire series as one epic, it will be but another step towards "Divine Illumination".

Characters and Perspective

The cast is very complicated and unusual, adding to the general ambiance of the book. Each character is three dimensional with often intense backstories and clear, confident, and consistently humane personalities in the present story. There's so much chaos, and yet pretty much every action and reaction seems very understandable and believable to me. Much like Mori, I as a reader very openly accepted the truths of these eclectic people and therefore, endured their supernatural craziness alongside them. Even the drunk, high, textbook unreliable narrator I felt compelled to believe through to the end.

I don't know that I can pick most and least favorite characters in this book; They are all so fascinating and well-rounded, but much like people I have only just met, I feel like I don't know enough about them to pass judgement. While they are obviously fully developed individuals, it's like I haven't gotten to know them enough yet. Maybe it has to do with Mori's alcohol-tinted lens and his determination to self-isolate that there's still a bit of a gap. I think of them all I most related with both Sofie and Mori in different ways. Despite their ages, genders, etc. they are both in such different places in a very similar journey regarding their relationships, substance use, living situations, and general mindset, both points of which I can personally identify.

Again, I am a little perplexed by the decision to structure the book in a journalistic retelling. I have no issues with using a journal or in this case logbook format -- where the reader is reading a "primary document" written by one of the characters involved in the story -- but, I do agree with other reviewers when I say that I don't know how much it really provided as compared to what it detracted from the plot. If it had been written in a first person perspective limited to Mori's point of view, it would be basically the same without the question of "a drunkard is writing this flourishing text?" and without hindering the ending. Sure, Seagard could still have chosen to end the story before Mori's descent, but it would have been an obvious, deliberate choice rather than a limitation set by the formatting. My only thought on why one would opt for the logbook format is that the sharing of it with Kooky and the LiliGilders has some greater importance, but we won't know that for sure until the other volumes release.

The Experience Reading the Book

Honestly, this entire book surprised me. The publisher's description of this book is accurate, yes, but it only scratches the surface. My attempt to explain doesn't do much better. Compared to the actual thing, any summary makes the plot sound like an episode of Scooby Doo. The depth of gritty humanity from the main character meshed with the eclectic personalities of his young bright friends all juxtaposed with this bizarre, often disturbing yet compelling cosmic mystery is difficult to describe in few words.

Normally, I'd be skeptical of a novel written by a drunk druggy deadbeat in such an eloquent writing style, but somehow it works (maybe because Mori is actually a highly intelligent individual under the layers of grime, maybe because I just appreciate good writing, maybe both?) I'd be skeptical of the use of such high-level vocabulary, but because each word is exactly correct in context (as opposed to the classic "well, the thesaurus says this means the same thing and it's a bigger word so I'll use it" tendency of new writers) and because the actual syntax is structurally sound, it works. I'm impressed that this is Seagard's first novel, as it's notably well-crafted. (I am glad that I was able to read an electronic copy of this book. It's been a while since I've read a book around 500 pages, so I think seeing a physical copy may have been daunting. Plus, I thoroughly utilized the dictionary function for quick searches of Seagard's impressive vocabulary and to search background information on the obviously researched topics to which Seagard alludes.)

As for the content, I am equally as impressed with the magical realism elements. Magical realism is NOT an easy writing style to accomplish. There is a nuance that many writers miss, pushing their story over the line into fantasy. Seagard was able to strike the balance between reality and not-reality while still weaving all of the related plotlines into a seamless narrative that is followable, entertaining, and even including underlying commentary.

I still have yet to decide what I think the purpose of this book is, but I have a few inquiries as to why the author wrote it. One thing that stands out to me after exploring the author's website is that Mori, who is very repetitive and somewhat disdainful about his physical appearance throughout the book, is described as looking very similar to the author himself (minus the more gross traits like the infected cuts and burst blood vessels in his eye, of course.) I wonder how much of Seagard's personal life and thoughts have bled into Mori's character, and how much of it is just "writing what you know". (Sidebar: It is not uncommon at all for writer's -- myself included -- to tend to write their main character as an extension of themself in physical appearance, emotional state, past experiences, etc. That does not by any means prove that they ARE that character. So, Mori might just also happen to be a bald man in his forties; There are more than one. No one but the author himself really knows.)

This book will stay with me, not because of its little profound bombs throughout or because of its excellent craftsmanship or because of my desire to know what happens, but because of the fact that all of it happened all wrapped up in a single debut novel. It brings me great joy to find new, interesting authors with sharp minds and unusual perspectives writing their truths through modern fiction. In a world that's becoming more and more focused on quantity and speed than quality and care, it's uplifting knowing that the craft of writing lives on and flourishes through these individuals, regardless of public opinion. I will be keeping my eye out for more of Seagard's work in the future.

If You Liked…

A note: This is NOT meant for children, and though I don't believe in limiting people's reading based on age at all and I hardly ever include warnings like this, I caution that anyone without a certain level of life experiences will digest this story in the same way as those otherwise. Aside from vocabulary -- which the internet or a good old fashioned dictionary can assist with -- this isn't a particularly difficult or even dense book to read. Yes, there is a lot of information and commentary and plot interwoven throughout, but it is also coming from the unlikely source of an open-minded, inebriated man who has abandoned his need tounderstand every little detail as well as his will to live. Processing the underlying commentary and plot and understanding why the characters act and think the ways they do when facing very heavy adult issues is where the challenge lies. Because of this, I think that a good majority of casual readers will decide that the book isn't "good", as they may not have that deeper knowledge. I've already seen it in a handful of reviews. If you as a reader are prepared to internalize a lot of what's given, then you will see the astounding complexity. In short, though I say by all means read it, because it's wonderful, I'd keep in mind that it will hit deeper the more life experiences that you have under your belt.

That being said, whether you are looking for something similar to read before or after reading MORI, I highly recommend The Un-Noticables by Robert Brockway. It’s a gritty urban fantasy with a skeptical view of the slightly horrific, slightly fantastical aspects of reality that we so often overlook. It also has strong ties with spiritual presences, bordering on but not quite committing to religious belief systems and the unseen energies of the world around us. Also, The OA on Netflix is a tv show with a similar premise, where a group of individuals taking a leap of faith to find previously unseen dimensional rifts, though their antagonists are painfully human.

HAWKSHAWS: The Lost Ones Volume 2

by Michael Seagard

Publication Date: Fall 2024

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