I’m not sure how much notice most readers take of publishers or their imprints when choosing a book but Alma Books are well worth loking out for. They’re a small press and their list isn’t long but each book is well chosen and always worth a look. When I was a reviews editor for print magazines I never had enough room to include everything published by them that I wanted to but that’s the beauty of the web: infinite space. Published last week, Roland Watson-Grant’s debut, Sketcher, is the latest Alma title to catch my eye.
The novel opens when Skid, our narrator, is nine years old, following the trials and colourful tribulations of his family up until they leave their one-room shack in the swamplands just outside New Orleans, seven years later. Skid is smart and sassy, recounting what he sees in a wonderfully vibrant voice. His father, a radio and TV repairman, has lured his mother out of the city with tales of a glorious vision filled with colour and beauty when what he’s actually after is a stake in the swamp’s natural gas. Four sons and several years later, Valerie is disenchanted, has exchanged her belief in the spirit world for God and is determined that Skid steers clear of any magical shenanigans. Skid has other ideas. Having become convinced that his brother Frico has only to draw something for it to become real, he sees a way out of the swamp and in to the bright lights of New Orleans.
Skid is a funny and engaging narrator, so intrigued with magic that he sees it everywhere and has you wondering just what the author wants his readers to believe until he stumbles upon a rational explanation, although some things are left for us to decide, just as they should be. The novel’s packed with incident from earthquakes to gangster shootouts and runs the gamut from comedy to tragedy while managing to steer clear of the problems inherent in using a child narrator. As usual, Alma have picked well. Sketcher is an excellent debut and I hope it reaches a wide audience.