Bats of the Republic


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An Illuminated Novel

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It invites us into its world even as it enters our own.

By Zachary Thomas Dodson. Staff Reviews Bats of the Republic is a book connoisseur's dream. Description "Archetypes of the cowboy story, tropes drawn from sci-fi, love letters, diaries, confessions all abound in this relentlessly engaging tale.


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It is a mad and beautiful thing. When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible Zeke Thomas has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, an esteemed senator. As their stories overlap and history itself begins to unravel, a war in time erupts between a lost civilization, a forgotten future, and the chaos of the wild.

It invites us into its world even as it enters our own.

He lives with his wife in Helsinki, Finland. The author, Zachary Thomas Dodson, is a book designer who co-founded Featherproof Books out of Chicago, and his debut novel is a glorious demonstration of what old-fashioned paper can still do in the hands of a creative genius … Bats of the Republic cumulatively becomes a book about the way books are made and the way stories work. Novels, Dodson suggests, are contraptions, jury rigged together with parts of other novels, archived letters, remembered conversations, maps, scraps of info, imagined journeys, and creatures real and strange.

Archetypes of the cowboy story, tropes drawn from sci-fi, love letters, diaries, confessions all abound in this relentlessly engaging tale.

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The Lit Pub • Bats of the Republic

You want an arcane tapestry of weird fantasy enhanced by transgenerational mysteries and their possible solutions? You want a character-rich and treacherous journey through the ancient Republic of Texas with a reluctant, heartsick emissary from the Museum of Flying, and with his beleaguered blood relative hundreds of years in the mechanically surveilled future? Perhaps because they are so interwoven, the characters themselves do not stand out as particularly vivid or recognizable.

If anything, Dodson emphasizes the fuzziness around their edges. Pointing to the way that any character or history is simply a compilation of the words we could find, Bats of the Republic questions how much we will really be made whole by that one missing piece of information. Moreover, it demonstrates how our obsession with one detail blinds us to innumerable others. Any resemblance to other persons or locales within the book should be carefully noted.


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  8. I might have loved this book more had I been more attached to its characters as individuals, but I was interested in it because I was not. The constant shifting among characters, narrative styles, and time periods makes it difficult for the characters or the plot to build up nuance and momentum. Instead, like a hipster in a vintage shop, the novel delights in the trappings of these periods.

    These limited characterizations, however, are rescued by the enticing visuals of the book itself.

    Bookshots: 'Bats of the Republic' by Zachary Thomas Dodson

    One of the most engagingly illustrated and typeset books for adults I have ever encountered, Bats of the Republic deserves a long look. Illuminated with green type and detailing, this book is deeply aware of its textuality. The type sets the tone of the scene. For example, as a character travels through the bat caves, the pages invert to black background with white type. Another passage begins by musing on the disappearing art of writing by hand, penciled more or less between the regularly spaced green lines of notebook paper.

    What would perhaps be too many different storytelling modes without this visual assistance becomes one of the most stimulating aspects of the novel.

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    This graphic novel approach reminds us that we do not only read the words themselves, but also their context, style, and illustrations. Bats doles out information in tiny morsels, leading readers along a path that is never fully lit and that is only haphazardly guided. Never making clear what spurs the movement from one overlaid storyline to the other, the novel is fascinatingly overdetermined and under-explained.

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