by Jordan Tannahill
In Liminal, the health of Jordan Tannahill’s mother, Monica, has been in a bit of decline. She’s just started going on the mend after having a mini-stroke, but she hasn’t felt great recently. After she doesn’t emerge from her bedroom long after she normally would in the morning, Jordan investigates. Seeing his mother lying there, he realizes that he can’t immediately tell if she’s asleep or dead, and this triggers a sort of existential panic and flood of memories in our narrator.
The word liminal refers to a transition, being between two states or even occupying a place on both sides of a boundary, and this concept constitutes most of the musings that make up the novel. Jordan, the narrator––and, presumably, Tannahill, the author––has a fixation on mortality and tries to come to terms with his understanding of the point where death occurs and what happens to the person at that moment. Does he cease to be? Does something within him linger? Is the person only the biological self, or is there more––a soul? The main issue I had when Tannahill started waxing philosophic was this notion that this was less an exercise to come to terms with his place in the world, and more to convince himself and others of his intellectual worth, of his value.
But then we move into memory. As Liminal progresses, Jordan remembers plowing recklessly through life, and this starts to frame not only the strains his relationship with his mother was exposed to over the years, but also how his insecurities and uncertainty in life kept him bouncing between happiness and self-destruction. This is where we find the meat of the book’s emotion, humanity layered with the grotesque, and also where the relationship between author and narrator became hazy to me. As the clear shape of Jordan the narrator began forming, of a young man with something to prove––to himself, to the world, to his mother––I began to consider that that which previously irked me for its pretentiousness makes sense in the context of the character.
I think it will be difficult for my opinion of Liminal to reach anything concrete without coming to terms with the idea of whether the voice belongs to the author or the narrator, which will influence what I think Liminal actually is. Is it the truthful musings of an author framing passionate portrayals of life and relationships? Or is it a more standard narrative, where these musings are closer to a tool used for better characterization of the narrator? Maybe this haziness was part of the intention, though I doubt I’ll be able to come to a better understanding of it without at least a re-reading.