As an avid reader, it has been a long time since I was so heavily engaged in a novel that my physical grip tightened by suspense and bent the pages. This was my experience reading True Ash, full of such vivid imagery that the reader is taken into a different world. Colen and Guess's writing not only plays mental mind games with readers, but questions the terms of genre as well. This novel is a combination of short stories, flash fiction, and prose poetry that all coincide with each other creating a luring uncanniness that hooks readers.
The novel’s introduction begins with an ominous tone as the narrator, who is never named, has been taken into the woods by their lover, who is also never named. From the fact that narrator wakes up to the lover with an axe in hand who then disappears into to the leaves, the reader can infer that a murder has taken place. Logic suggests the rest of the book will just be about solving a murder; however, it is not that simple.
Not only are the two characters’ names left out of the introductions, but throughout the novel they only refer to each other as “I” and “you.” Their genders are never revealed to the reader. With other characters, various love affairs occur that are both heterosexual and homosexual. Brianna, who is married to Brian, is having an affair with Felice while Brian has a love affair with Nadine. By showing various types of relationships, the authors are suggesting that love is a universal language and that sexuality is not limited by gender. In the chapters where the reader does not have the characters names, we are forced to look at the relationship for what it is rather than relying on gender indicators. It is still rare to see a spectrum of sexual identities in fiction, especially when the character's sexuality isn't the focus of the conflict. Colen and Guess are normalizing these identities while emphasizing the idea a relationship between two people is about a strong connection that you can’t ignore, and sexual identity doesn’t change that.
Additionally, each chapter of this novel is not only told by a different perspective, but also takes on a different genre of writing. Many chapters, such as “[*]” and “50th Anniversary of a Man-made Lake,” are told in poetic/flash form and the reader must try to put together the clues. One of the most suspenseful chapters, “A Fistful of Keys,” highlights Nadine’s and Brian’s confrontation in a one-act play. This switching of genres and perspectives persists throughout the whole novel. While the reader is not quite sure where they are, they cannot help flipping back and forth through the pages to try and solve the mystery.
The genius of both Colen and Guess should be applauded. They are able to use recurring themes in today’s society, such as sex and violence, in different forms of writing yet still have it play out like a well-written symphony. Through this eerie plot line, not only do Colen and Guess have us question the structure of society, but also the unlimited possibilities of genre. Despite some confusion, the suspension of disbelief is so lively that you must read on and discover more.