Deep in the Infinite Image:
The New & Noteworthy Book Club Discusses Zachary Thomas Dodson’s Bats of the Republic
Bats! Texas! Overlapping genres! Parallel timelines! Archival records! Full disclosure: I am an archivist who is a former graphic designer–who also has a weak spot for misunderstood animals. If there is any book that is written with me as a reader in mind, it is Zachary Thomas Dodson’s Bats of the Republic.
It’s hard for me to sell this book here in text without just handing you a copy of this gorgeous tome. The care taken into crafting each page in this book (including the dust jacket and endpages) is stunning. Everything is printed in browns and greens–not one word in black and white! I have read through the entire book, and I still pick it up and flip the pages, knowing that I’m not going to read a single word. It begs to be handled (which is why I don’t think I should have been scolded for opening the letter before reading the book–it’s not that I have poor impulse control; it’s just that pretty). This is definitely a case where “container” is just as important as “content.” In this case, container is content. (The book is designed to be an object and therefore, unfortunately, not very e-reader friendly.)
So here’s the story…or, stories…here’s what’s what. In Chicago, 1843, Zadock Thomas works in John Gray’s Museum of Flying. Zadock, in love with Gray’s elder daughter Elswyth, is sent by Gray to deliver a secret letter to the mysterious General Irion deep in the Republic of Texas. The letter is sealed and marked Do Not Open! Zadock’s journey is told through his field notebook and his letters to Elswyth, while Elswyth’s side is told through the period novel The Sisters Gray. The letters, notebook, and novel serve as archival records examined by Henry Bartle in the parallel story, which takes place in 2143 in the City State of Silver (also known as the Republic of Texas). Bartle wants to verify the lineage of Zeke Thomas, whose grandfather has just died and who has been chosen to succeed him as Khrysalis and take his Senate seat. This twenty-second century America is split into seven city-states through which citizens move as they reach particular life phases. This story is told through Bartle’s letters to his daughter Eliza Gray, Eliza’s letters to her best friend Leeya, and surveilled conversation transcripts–but Zeke’s story is mostly told through the science fiction novel The City-State, which was written by Elswyth Gray’s late mother back in the 19th century. Did I say parallel storylines? I meant interknit spirals of time, continuously circling one another. (I would advise a reader not to ask Zach Dodson the chicken-or-egg question.) To say both stories mirror each other is simplistic. They do, but in the way that infinite images appear when viewed between two mirrors.
And if that isn’t complex enough for you, consider that all of this has been imagined in 2015 by Zachary Thomas Dodson and materialized in the book you hold in your hands.
I have never read a book like this before. While there is no shortage of books that blend genres, Bats of the Republic will stand as a landmark in the direction of our evolving definitions of genre, storytelling, authorship, and entity-relations. It’s one thing to be inspired by history to tell a story, it’s quite another to see your place in it and then to acknowledge your influence as author. It should even make us examine our role in the story as readers.
Join Demi and Jan here at BookPeople this Thursday at 7pm as the New & Noteworthy Book Club discusses Bats of the Republic, Zachary Thomas Dodson’s illuminated love letter to Texas.