"The Silver Thaw" by Thomas Saint McReynolds is not only entertaining and emotionally involving, but as far as I'm concerned it's one of the most important works of fiction I've come across in recent memory. Why? Because with this story McReynolds is holding a mirror up to today's society, and what is reflected there is an accurate, if not altogether pleasant, image of who we are and where we are in America today. Like everyone else in the country (I would hope), I was outraged by the whole Enron scandal, and McReynolds seems to draw upon the outrage of a nation by going behind the scenes, as it were, to illustrate the soullessness that is Corporate America in the 21st Century. The main character, Ready Smith, is a man who gets so caught up in his career with "EnTrustCo," the huge corporation he works for, that he neglects his wife and family to the point that he ends up losing them. As the story begins, Ready's wife, Arzz, has been gone for nearly a year, having left him abruptly one day after more than twenty years of marriage. It finally hits Ready when he wakes up one day and realizes that he doesn't care about anything anymore. In fact, he can't "feel" anything, and starts to wonder if he's losing his humanity. He wonders at one point if this is what it feels like to be "comfortably numb," as he remembers Pink Floyd said in one of their songs. As the story progresses, you really get to know Ready Smith- what he's thinking and what he's going through emotionally as he tries to turn his life around. McReynolds has a way of making you feel Ready's exasperation and frustration as he hits one roadblock after another, and that's one of the things that makes this such a good read; this isn't a fairy-tale, happily-ever-after story, but one that shows how real life more often than not plays out. At first, I didn't know what to think of Ready Smith, whether or not I was even going to like him. But this is a complex character- like people are in real life- and after a few chapters I began to strongly identify with him, I think because of the "humanity" within him that ultimately is revealed, and once you begin to see the contrast between who Ready is and those he's been working for, Ready emerges as a truly sympathetic character. On the other side of the coin, McReynolds gives you a good look at what makes a businessman like EnTrustCo CEO Franklin Forbes Bedlam tick and what motivates him, which can be summed up in two words: money and power. McReynolds infuses his story with a lot of heart, and the relationships that are examined between Ready and Hillary (a woman he hires as his secretary), and between Ready and his children, Summer Rain and Michelangelo Vincent, are by turns touching and heartbreaking. This is all serious stuff, of course, but McReynolds also laces his story with just enough humor to give the reader an emotional break from time to time. More than the story itself, the imaginative and stylistic approach McReynolds uses in the telling of it makes it an even more rewarding experience. At times he uses a stream-of-consciousness technique that threw me at first, but once I realized what he was doing it was like a door into Ready's thoughts had opened up, which provided the kind of insights that really helped flesh out Ready, as well as the other characters. After a certain point, I couldn't wait to find out how Ready's travails were going to be resolved, while at the same time, this was one of those books I didn't want to see end, I think because it touched upon the whole spectrum of the experience we call life- love, sadness, hope, despair, what we want and what we need, it's all here. I can't think of another book, in fact, that's affected me this way since "Angela's Ashes," by Frank McCourt.
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