Claiming T-Mo by Eugen Bacon

Reviewed by Angela Wauchop

She blinked, studied him anew. The man whose eyes were full of space when they were not holding something wild. They were chameleon, shifting appearance with light, as did the color of his skin […] Sometimes he seemed quite tanned, sometimes tan lifted to gray. The first time she saw him, she was sure it was an ailment. How creased, so youthful a face: it had to be a disorder.

I instantly felt part of Eugen Bacon’s new novel Claiming T-Mo. My literary ears pricked up with the mention of my Melbourne neighbourhood Carnegie on the first page. Claiming T-Mo silkily links reality with the surreal, and the grounded with the unearthly. This is what hooked me first when reading about Salem, a young woman with strict parents who introduces us to the enigmatic T-Mo and the other-worldly puzzle-piece woman with fifty-cent eyes.

Yes, Bacon dares you to stop reading, dares you to take a break from the narrative, but you won’t, or can’t. I say ‘narrative’, but the novel is not just a work of speculative fiction, but is part family saga, fantasy and science fiction. It is complex to describe Bacon’s style in Claiming T-Mo. It is no ordinary prose that the author uses, yet Bacon’s words and her phrases do not conform to any style I have read before. The words flow, they are fast, they are read and assimilated quickly and, with the ease of expertly written prose, they are poetry.

The story of T-Mo’s birth takes place in another world, and beggars the questions where is he from—this person with dinosaur skin… and what is it about a world in which one child with two names is cursed and split in two by his ancient and ominous Dad? Then the story of Margo and Ken grounds us again, almost back down to Earth—Australia in particular—well it’s kind of Down Under, if you squint, with its farms, bus lanes, utes and dick togs.

But Claiming T-Mo also tantalises us with Red, the singing dye-squirting and fiercely jealous house plant. The book also makes you think about a bigger picture. It doesn’t get much bigger than the inter-generational plights of human-alien hybrids and interplanetary mediation for alien refugees on Earth and alien governments loathe to commit resources or provide financial help.

Claiming T-Mo is more than its stylistic elements of sci-fi, fantasy and speculative fiction— it reads like a well-woven memoir, a family saga in a parallel universe in which human and alien interaction is not such a strange occurrence. This novel will ground and hook you with ‘what is’, and enchant and reel you in with what might be.

These flowers, already painted and peppered wide along the landscape by spring, transformed the parks of Middle Creek into highlights akin to the canvas landscapes of Master Oschin Palomar, an artist way before his time. He portrayed water that held fragrance, painted mountains that flew, and penciled moonlight that throbbed against the horizon.