Anyone familiar with Bill Deasy’s deeply affecting music and powerful lyrics will be intrigued to learn that he has expanded the themes evident in his songs into a novel. Telling a story in three minutes of music is one thing, but the question is can Deasy remain as compelling and astute over 200 pages? The answer is emphatically ‘yes’.
The narrative skill evident in Deasy’s epic songwriting has been easily translated into the story of Ransom Seaborn, the tale of a college freshman, Dan Finbar, who befriends the misunderstood loner of the book’s title, only for their friendship to be tragically cut short, forcing Finbar to come of age as he investigates the intrigue surrounding Ransom’s dark past.
The novel, which has been in various stages of development for nearly a decade, is in the vein of classic American literature and draws inspiration from strands of Deasy’s own life. There are frequent echoes of Deasy’s favourite author, J.D. Salinger, and numerous references to Deasy’s musical hero, Van Morrison, while the character development of Finbar has a familiar thread, as he eventually becomes a professional singer-songwriter. He even references two of his own compositions in Finbar’s fictional music career – “People Change” and “Distant Thunder”.
But it’s Deasy’s ability to weave the intricacies of the story together that really stands out during Ransom Seaborn. Evocative imagery, heartfelt passages and a satisfying level of pace and tension easily draw the reader in as the plot unravels.
Deasy clearly revels in the opportunity to write outside the confines of song lyrics, exploring complex character relationships as he does so. The bond between main protagonist Finbar and his friend Maggie becomes ever deeper as they delve into the secrets of the journal left behind by Ransom Seaborn.
My only gripe is that perhaps the ending has been edited down just a little too harshly; certain important parts of the climax would benefit from greater depth, but overall, Ransom Seaborn is a terrific debut from a promising author who is so bitten by the novel-writing bug that he is already working on a follow-up.
More than anything, though, Deasy’s debut novel proves that a good writer is a good writer no matter which medium he chooses to explore.