Into the reality called the Escapement rides the Stranger, a lone gunman on a quest to rescue his son from a parallel world. But it is too easy to get lost on a shifting landscape full of dangerous versions of his son's most beloved things: cowboys gone lawless, giants made of stone, downtrodden clowns, ancient battles, symbol storms and shadowy forces at play.
Not only is the book a surreal blend of Barnum and Bailey meets Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, it also draws on Greek mythology, takes its semiotic cues from John Clute’s seminal essay collection The Darkening Garden, and features numerous Easter eggs including guest appearances from Laurel and Hardy and John Wayne Gacy. The genius of Tidhar, which he has repeatedly demonstrated, is that he can turn these literary and pop culture references into a gripping, moving narrative unlike anything you’ve read before ... For a novel with such an absurdist conceit bursting with comedic potential, The Escapement is surprisingly grim. From the book’s opening page, where a father can no longer bear to watch over his dying child, to a scene a few pages later where the Stranger discovers the gruesome remains of mutilated clowns, Tidhar establishes a tone short on gags, pratfalls, and whimsy. That’s not to say the book is po-faced or deadly earnest; there’s a liveliness to the eccentric, larger-than-life characters the Stranger encounters on his journey ... But it’s precisely this upending of expectations, the masterful use of tone, the sheer chutzpah...that makes Lavie Tidhar’s work so damn exciting. And in the case of The Escapement, what binds it all together, what makes it more than just a very clever, literate novel, is that it’s also a quietly tragic and touching story about parental love, the inarticulate fear of losing a child, and the impossible lengths a father will go to save his son.
... dazzling ... The Escapement comes to seem dual parts an allegory for the evasive phantasms that people hold most dear—including boundless excitement; including immortality—and a mythology-attuned gamer’s paradise. Here, ants scurry through glass arms that are the remnants of impossible wars ... Those who enter the Escapement should strap themselves in for horrors and wonders galore. Filled with contorted fairy tales, myths, and familiar stories, Lavie Tidhar’s latest novel is both a fantastical diversion and a moving articulation of deep parental love.
The Escapement is a quick read at about 250 pages, and had a YA feel. The prose is direct and generally simple, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This would be a good book for a long flight or to kill time in waiting rooms. There’s not much in The Escapement to make you stop and think, and there’s not much need to return to previous sections to enhance the meaning or understanding of what you’ve just read. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that The Escapement doesn’t have a great deal going on below the surface of what’s printed on the page. The most interesting feature of The Escapement is the world itself. Tidhar does a good job of creating a surreal world that feels as though it exists on its own, instead of simply being a backdrop for the story of the Stranger ... At the same time though, some of the surreal aspects of The Escapement fall flat ... a no man’s land of references and allusions. The Escapement isn’t a bad book ... the potential is there, The Escapement just didn’t quite get there.