A Review of FOAM

by rthieme on January 11, 2016

Richard Thieme is not the sort of author who will appeal to everyone, but those who are willing or able to tune into his particular wavelength will find the FOAM trilogy to be worth the trip (choice of words intentional). As with Philip K. Dick, the plot is almost beside the point, being a delivery vehicle for ideas and insights which will linger independent of the story. Not that the story doesn’t also hold many charms, it’s just that this is not the sort of book where the story is all there is to it.

The plot is one consisting of many disparate characters increasingly intertwined in a six degrees of Kevin Bacon sort of way, but without the connections and intermingling seeming overly contrived. It’s the sort of story that might been seen if one were given the ability to observe what happens to those one interacts with daily in the hours when they are not in one’s presence. Truth is stranger and more complex than any fiction that humans can create, and Thieme’s book is one of those stories where the author’s view of the truth is put forward in the guise of plausible fiction – a more easily digested and familiar form to deliver the dose of “WTF?” (think of P.K. Dick or maybe Haruki Murakami) that is also provided gratis as part of the deal.

Richard Thieme is also a speaker, consultant and observer of the human condition (including time spent as a priest) in “real” life, and those who have interacted with him in those roles will find this book to be enjoyable on another level, as references familiar and obscure are woven throughout the tale. Much as an audience member who is also a musician can find pleasure in noticing the fragmentary riffs that a musical performer has appropriated from many sources and playfully inserted into an epic solo, those who have been exposed to Thieme’s work in other contexts will recognize recurring pop-culture touchstones and themes (pardon the pun) from various sources. We are all products of our experiences, and both Thieme and his characters rely on shared experiences and reference point to establish bonds and communicate – sort of like that Star Trek TNG episode where the alien species communicates by way of references to history, myths and legends, allowing a short phrase to convey not only direct meaning, but contextual reference and nuance derived from shared knowledge of the source narrative.

What’s it all about? It would be easy to tersely sum up the plot, but doing so would likely lead many to either dismiss it or flock to it, with both groups likely missing the point in the process. The context is the content. The best that I can say without prejudicing the prospective reader is that it’s ultimately about being conscious and being human, with the recognition of all the glories and flaws inherent to both conditions. Perhaps the most interesting character is the one that does not covertly appear – the overarching entity consisting of the interactions of all the characters and contexts presented, which is in its own way a character on a larger stage that is left to the reader’s imagination.

Should you read the book? Maybe, maybe not. It’s not the sort of book that will please everybody.

If you’ve gotten through this review and become at least mildly curious about what exactly could be in this book that I’m tap-dancing around, you might be the sort who will at least give Thieme a chance. You might like his style and ideas, or you might not, but books aren’t all that expensive, so how much have you really got to lose? Donate the thing to the local library or to a thrift store if it doesn’t meet your needs, or give it to a friend (or enemy) whose neurons need to be tweaked a bit.

If you are the sort of reader who would prefer a nice, neat plot summary filling in the usual check boxes in one of any number of familiar genres and formulaic templates, this book at the very least is going to prove difficult to pigeon-hole. Even for you folks, it might be worth giving this a chance. It might change your life, or at least change the boundaries of your choice of reading materials.

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