The Barnes & Noble Review
Meet John Trow, Thomas Dyja's second novel after the Civil War historical Play for a Kingdom, is proof that a skilled writer can make any topic interesting. Its subject matter -- the world of Civil War reenactors -- seems like fodder for satire and little else. Yet Dyja uses this arcane subculture, populated mostly by middle-aged men who dress up in Union or Confederate uniforms to stage encores of famous 19th-century bloodbaths, to weave a surprisingly effective postmodern ghost story.
The novel's namesake is a long-dead Connecticut private whom the protagonist, Steven Armour, is assigned to portray. Armour, drawn to reenacting on a whim, is one of postmillennial fiction's favorite stock characters: a 40-year-old paper pusher in the throes of a midlife crisis. Soon the spirit of John Trow hijacks his tepid life, lending him the fortitude to both climb the corporate ladder and become a pillar of strength for his family. But the ghost exacts a price. It pushes Armour into a dalliance with the wife of his ersatz regimental commander, then tries to force him to commit murder. Not surprisingly, gunplay settles the issue during a massive, climactic reenactment of the battle of Cold Harbor.
Just like its main (living) character, Dyja's book becomes more surefooted as it goes along, slowly morphing from depressing domestic drama into supernatural mystery. While the characters may be less finely drawn than those in Play for a Kingdom -- the story of a group of Confederate and Union soldiers who meet for an unlikely series of baseball games while the battle of Spotsylvania rages around them -- Dyja manages to weave a haunting and dramatic tale out of some decidedly undramatic elements. (Sam Stall)
A fine novel that draws you in slowly, then grips you tightly and holds you
to its surprising ending.
Part social satire, part ghost story, this delightful, entertaining novel
should be a hit...
Thomas Dyja's haunting novel unfolds like a new-millennium Babbitt with a
supernatural twist...Dyja unpacks plausible surprises as he lampoons the
modern obsession with nostalgia and explores the very nature of identity.
...wondrous, wry and moving...a joy...a novel as surprising as it is
..one of the year's best barnburners...Dyja demonstrates a rare dramatic
timing that propels his story at a sharp pace...Meet John Trow is the best
book on obsession and the crises of middle age since Nabokov set his
San Francisco Chronicle
Dyja adroitly builds the suspense as Steven falls deeper into the virual
reality of the past...as a parable for the snares and delusions of our
times, Meet John Trow is richly rewarding indeed.
His depictions of life in present-day small town America, the smoke screen
allure of simpler times, the hollow romance of Civil War history, Steven
Armour's descent into schizoid delusion as John Trow all hit the bull's-eye
with unerring accuracy. Meet John Trow is alternately hilarious and
harrowing, touching and perturbing. From start to finish, it is consistently
...full of time-bending surprises...superb...Equal parts historical drama, ghost story, romance and mystery...a vital critique of millennial malaise.
Thomas Dyja's superbly knowing, entertaining, and downright literary second
novel, Meet John Trow, moves the author into the top rank of serious young
Darkly comic...Dyja skillfully and humorously evokes the constant computer,
television and general pop culture static that clouds Steven's vision, as
well as the crack of musket fire and whiff of gunpowder in Riga
Village...Dyja taps into some powerful 21st century anxieties and fantasies,
which should help him attract new readers.
Washington Post Book World
Wondrous, wry and moving.... a novel as surprising as it is poignant. Chris Bohjalian
An unfortunately sluggish first 50 pages give little hint of the riches of characterization, plot, and theme to be found in this superb second novel from the author of Play for a Kingdom. Once again, Dyja's subject is the Civil Warthis time as "lived" by re-enactors at Riga Village, a historic mountaintop settlement in northwestern Connecticut. The homage paid to the past there attracts the attention of Steven Armour, a former history major, and a minor executive who manages Web sites for the Dilly-Perkins food conglomerate, with a mixture of general competence and periodic bad judgment that also afflicts his experience of marriage and parenthood. Joining the re-enactors, Steven is assigned the character of John Trow, a nondescript soldier whose unheroic life nevertheless begins to exert a strong fascination, especially when accumulating evidence suggests a secret Trow had shared with Polly Kellogg, wife of Trow's superior officer. Dyja pulls out one dazzling surprise after another, as Steven finds himself drawn to the married woman playing Mrs. Kellogg, endangering relationships with his impatient wife Patti and their two (brilliantly drawn) children, and alternately seduced and repelled by the possibly ghostly presence of Trow, "who" appears to be saying to Steven, "I am the person you want to be." This is a terrific subject, seldom if ever previously treated in fiction. Dyja makes the presence of the past all the more potent by juxtaposing against it the commercial world clamoring for Steven's attention (most memorably in such absurdities as Dilly-Perkins's Thanksgiving Day Parade float, embodying "a magical trip through the world of dumplings and pasta"). And it climaxesstunningly, at the Riga Villagers' reenactment of the catastrophic battle of Cold Harbor, with Steven fully possessed of the truth about John Trow, and prepared to discover whether he will or will not "become" him. Every bit as entertaining and gripping as it is ingenious.