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by Molly Best Tinsley

Molly Best Tinsley
Molly Best Tinsley
Fuze Publishing
 304 Pages
Things Too Big to Name

The literary device of the unreliable narrator has been around at least since the days of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but it’s become quite popular in recent years when employed in best-selling novels like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Author Molly Best Tinsley offers readers her version of an unreliable narrator in her new book, Things Too Big to Name, but the book isn’t just a takeoff on other popular works. Instead, Tinsley has constructed a complex narrative with three different storylines being told in alternating chapters, all with the same narrator, and each unreliable in its own way. The result is a complex psychological mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final twist.


Things Too Big to Name is the type of novel that one shouldn’t describe in too much depth because doing so would spoil the readers’ process of discovery. What I can say is that it’s the story of Margaret Torrens, a long-widowed, retired college English professor living mostly in seclusion in a remote part of Oregon. (Art imitates life here, as the author is a retired English professor living in a remote part of Oregon.) As the story begins, Margaret is under arrest for murder, and her attorney wants her to plead temporary insanity. Who the victim is, we don’t know. What happened, we don’t know. Later, a young woman and child show up at Margaret’s cabin. Who they are, we don’t know. That last event is indicative of the way the book is constructed. Before author Tinsley reveals one answer, she raises another question. Readers find themselves drawn into the mystery of deciphering what went on, thanks to the author’s ingenious mixture of narrative styles.


As I mentioned earlier, although Things Too Big to Name is entirely narrated by Margaret, her story takes three different forms. When the book begins, she is preparing for her examination by the court-appointed shrink, and several chapters describe her meetings with him and her life as what is essentially an inmate in a mental institute. Then, as part of the doctor’s attempt to assess Margaret’s state of mind, he has her write a journal detailing the events that led up to the mysterious “crime.” Of course, Margaret doesn’t keep to a strict timeline but also flashes back further in time to events during and shortly after her marriage. And, finally, some chapters are letters she writes to her long-dead husband about their life together.


Molly Best Tinsley is a former English professor, and she knows how to choose her words well. She has constructed nearly every sentence in this novel precisely, revealing what she wants to reveal and obscuring what she wants to keep hidden. And, since Margaret has various different agendas throughout the book, readers have to guess at times how much of her “journal” is real, and how much is an attempt to influence the doctor who is examining her. At other times in the book, readers will wonder about how much the emotional events Margaret has gone through have played tricks with her recollections.


While I admired the author’s technical skill in this book, at times, I had trouble connecting emotionally with Margaret as a character. I felt as if I were reading an Agatha Christie novel, one in which the characters serve the function of driving the mystery. Here, Margaret and some of the other characters seem devices to fuel the puzzle instead of real people.


But what a puzzle it is. Things Too Big to Name is filled with twists and surprise reveals, up until the last chapter, and the author takes her time in showing one little bit of the puzzle at a time. The result is a classic page-turner, one in which the audience’s desire to get to the bottom of what occurred becomes nearly insatiable. I confess that, when I first agreed to review this book, I was a bit concerned that a lengthy narrative written from the point of view of an English professor might prove to be a pedantic slog. However, the story is never dull, and Tinsley avoids going off on lengthy literary tangents. Every event that Margaret relates drives the story forward in one way or another. The result is a superior mystery. Things Too Big to Name is a book that’s too enjoyable to overlook.

The author graciously supplied me with a copy of this book, but the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Here are some of Molly Best Tinsley's other books on Amazon:


Molly Best Tinsley taught on the civilian faculty at the United States Naval Academy for twenty years and is the institution’s first professor emeritaHer fiction has earned two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pushcart Prize, the Sandstone Prize, and the Oregon Book Award.  Her plays have been read and produced nationwide from Seattle, to Houston, New York City, and Washington DC. She lives in Oregon, where she divides her time between Ashland and Portland.


Follow her on Twitter @mbtinsley / Facebook: @molly.b.tinsley / Instagram: @mollytinsleyy / Amazon author page:



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