Mother Blues follows the tumultuous life of Davis Payne, a man who’s been plagued by tragedy and death for as long as he can remember. Following the wreckage of Hurricane Harvey, he resolves to leave his home in Houston to escape his troubled past. Trouble, however, is waiting for Davis in the small town of Corbin, Texas — the inhabitants of which are grappling with histories as chaotic and cryptic as Davis’ own. As his life becomes gravely intertwined with the townspeople and the conflict unfolding in Corbin, Davis must confront the trauma of his past to understand the truth about a lifelong omen that may bear fatal consequences for him and the people around him. It’s a dark, twisted tale that invokes motherhood both figuratively and literally.
Thomas is a master at bringing the ethereal to life. His magical realism can be as subtle as it is jarring, a contradiction held together by his artful pacing and rhythm. Although the book doesn’t spend much time featuring the blues, its presence certainly lives in the pages of the novel. In fact, Mother Blues couldn’t be more aptly titled. Thomas’ thematic approach to the metaphor of motherhood challenges us, as he often does, to question the way we make sense of the world around us and how we understand ourselves. The recurring role of motherhood in the novel serves to accentuate Thomas’ more abstract theme of motherhood — and the pain and responsibility that comes with it — especially as it pertains to Davis’s character and his relationship to Corbin.
There is a certain sense of duality present in most of Thomas’ writing, and, in Mother Blues, it stands out primarily through his characters. While Davis Payne’s arc is undeniably compelling, it’s the stunning development of the other characters he encounters that sets the book apart. They are, at once, both mysterious to a nearly mythical extent and remarkably human. And Thomas has a way of writing this kind of paradox that fits perfectly into the worlds that he builds. The duality of his characters is tied together by a keen sense of place; Corbin itself has a sort of character. As Davis becomes more involved in the lives of the townspeople, with the weight of a supernatural responsibility on his shoulders, we do get to enjoy characters that stand on their own, but we also see Davis’ character as inextricably bound to the character of the town itself. Yet, despite its magical predilection or the mind-bending subtext of Mother Blues, Thomas’ prose remains engaging and easy to read.
Mother Blues defies expectations and tells a story that is as real as it is magical; Thomas’ distinctive narrative voice shines through once again with mesmerizing prose that pushes us to reach for what’s just beyond our understanding.