The Loop Threw Me For A Loop

Don’t let the cover throw you. The Loop is a must read, if you don’t mind philosophical circles.

A Word About The 3 Day Novel Contest

Author Dan Sanders wrote his first novel, “The Loop,” through the 3 Day Novel Writing Contest. It was his first time entering, and he won the top prize — publication by Canada’s Anvil Press. 

Sanders and I met online via Twitter. I have entered the 3DN four times and was lucky enough to get shortlisted for the publication prize once. Sanders won it on his first attempt!

Over the years, I have found a kinship with other 3DN contestants as we post updates on our progress throughout the contests, encouraging each other, and congratulating those who make the long lists. When I saw Sanders won the 2018 3DN, I congratulated him and asked if he’d be willing to participate in a written interview process I was conducting in preparation for my “How To Write A Novel In 3 Days” research project. He agreed. 

Sanders used the contest to explore a vision he had while working one day. It was such a captivating vision, he paused in his work to write a 600 word “flash fiction” snippet —  to memorialize the mental picture of one man walking down a hill, the wrong way, against a line of multitudes walking up the hill.

The 3DN contest is a decades old annual event that begins at midnight Friday of Labor Day weekend and ends on midnight Monday. For three days, contestants do nothing but write, eat and sleep, having cleared their calendars of everything else. At the end of three days, they upload their “three day novels” to the contest platform and wait for the contest judges to announce the winners several months later. Sanders planned to write his novel in a motel on the way to a family gathering. He didn’t like the motel, and ended up sacrificing seven hours of driving time to change locations: from dingy motel to beach side house, where he finished his novel.

The Story Synopsis

“Alan is unsure if he is dead or dreaming, he only knows that he is stuck in a loop. He finds himself being forced to walk along a straight path through an upending pine forest where any deviation from the path causes him to black out and begin again. Dipping in and out of an endless purgatorial walk, Alan relives key moments in his life where he missed the opportunity to learn, escape, and change: The death of his mother, an abusive relationship with his father, and the opportunity to connect with his only friend, a neighbour he never speaks to named Edgar.” (From the book jacket synopsis.)

Just Try To Get Out of The Loop

First of all, this book is nothing like books I typically read. It has that rare captivating quality that pulls a person into the story regardless of their literature preferences. Not only did I want to know how this loop thing would turn out, I understood from the start I may not like the answer.

The Loop seems to have its own rules, where you are permitted to feel some things and not others. You are forced on a path you cannot alter. And just when the path becomes predictable, it changes. At one point, Alan feels a grain of sand in his eye. Unable to do anything about it, he has no choice but to ponder its presence. “I am allowed to feel the scratch of it…I play a game with it, try to pass it back and forth on each blink…anything to focus on but the path, but it doesn’t move…It is a scratchy nightmare and it disappears the moment I feel thankful for it.”

The reader is transported back and forth between Alan’s ceaseless trek along the path and his life where he suffered the loss of his mother, the abuse of his father, and an inability to change his own trajectory, fighting to avoid the ill fated choices of his parents.

The melodramatic writing borders on comic relief at times. For example, when Alan recalls an alcoholic haze he zoned in and out of alone in his trailer: “The smoke alarm chirped from the dead battery for weeks, every sixty seconds. Eek eek. Eek eek. Forever. If it saved the energy from the goddamn chirping, it’d last another year. Longer than me, probably. Between chirps, I’d forget the battery was dead, that I had to replace it. I’d begin again on the beeps. Oh right, the smoke alarm. Eek eek. Oh right, the smoke alarm. Eek Eek. Oh right, the smoke alarm.”

The writing was so full of loopy layers like this, it was impossible to put down. Where would the loop end? How many layers of loops must the man endure?

The Ending (Don’t Worry, No Spoilers Here)

There is a big reveal in the book’s last pages that sent my heart racing even faster, flipping pages in a frenzy before arriving at the crescendo. The end of the loop. Or the beginning — I’ll leave that to your imagination. It’s the sort of ending that makes you crazy. At first. 

Knowing the author, I wanted to email him immediately and ask my questions. Does this mean X, or does it mean Y? I even made myself a note before I went to sleep. In the morning, I looked at my note again and realized, “Oh…” Oh. I understood. In that way that letting an ending marinate overnight can do. And that understanding brought discomfort.

This is not a book of hope — one of my requirements for a five star book. It’s an uncomfortable book. But because the story won’t leave me. Because I’m still in the loop of it. Pondering the purgatorial questions the book brings out. Engaging in philosophical debates with myself over the book’s themes. Because of those things, I’m making an exception. Dan Sanders’ “The Loop” is exceptional. Read it and enjoy the discomfort it brings.

The Loop pairs well with a loop-shaped pumpkin spice donut. See “Recipes.”

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