The novel “Beyond the Cascade” is divided into three sections, and each section has its own distinct style.
The first section is literary fiction and mainly focuses on character development. It introduces the main character, Suzannah, who is a brilliant linguist receiving awards and climbing fast in her profession. But at a certain point it all loses meaning for her, and she begins to suffer from depression. What pulls her out is her discovery of an old text by an explorer which indicates he discovered a new language in a remote part of Africa near a waterfall called the Experience Cascade. What fascinates Suzannah is not only the uniqueness of this language, but the fact that it seems to be based on mystical concepts totally different than those of modern languages. As she dives into research on the explorer/writer, the language he discovered, and the people to whom this language is ascribed, her study assumes the nature of a quest, and her depression sloughs away in the heat of her single-minded determination. Eventually she decides to journey to Africa and seek out this enigmatic cascade, both for the sake of her linguistics research, and also her own personal self-fulfillment.
This first part, for me, was the strongest section of the book. Jessup brilliantly describes Suzannah’s plunge into depression, the linguistic threads that lead up to her discovery, her search for evidence to back up her insight, and her resolve to see the mystery through to its conclusion.
This section is extraordinarily well-written, and it made me wonder what the hell the agents and editors were thinking in giving this books a pass. Sure, it could benefit from some editing and tightening, but I could say the same for a multitude of published books I have read and nevertheless enjoyed. It also made me rejoice that self-publishing is now a valid option for authors, because books like this deserve to find readers.
The second section takes place in South Africa, as Suzannah assembles a guide and a group of porters and makes the long trek through primitive territory to the land of the Experience Cascade. Besides the difficulties of the forbidding land itself, she meets with the opposition of locals who tell her that the place to which she is going is taboo. She must go through various rites of passage to earn the right to travel onward. This section reads more like an H. Rider Haggard novel of African adventure. It is decently written but in my estimation goes on a little too long. After all, what hooked me into the book were the mystical and linguistic elements of the story, and that’s what I wanted to hear more about.
The third section describes the changes Suzannah and those she has traveled with go through as they arrive at the Experience Cascade. It plunges deeply into the metaphysical aspects of the tale, and here, I have to admit, I was lost from time to time, as the author attempts to describe concepts difficult to grasp in the abstract. He does attempt to meld the linguistic element into the story by explaining names locals gave to various mountains, valleys, rivers, and other landmarks as they pass them, but I wish he would have covered the linguistic thread in more depth, as that is one of the key points which drew me into the story in the first place.
Overall, it is a highly original, compelling novel, and I am glad it is available for readers to discover. Jessup is a promising novelist and I hope to see more from him in the future.
In addition, I applaud his courage in publishing it. The publishing industry is changing rapidly, and self-publication is more and more becoming a viable option for writers, either as an end in itself or as a steppingstone from which to launch a traditional publishing career. It is a wonderful, creativity-boosting development that self-styled gatekeepers no longer have the power to ban unusual, unorthodox books from being put before the reading public for their direct consideration. There are a lot of diamonds in the rough out there, and it is a reader’s right to go treasure hunting in the wilds of the self-publishing world. There is a lot of rubbish, yes, but have you been to a traditional bookstore recently? Scan the shelves. How much of all you see is really worth reading? That’s how it is in all facets of life. You have to dredge the garbage for the gems. And the gems are there, waiting to be found and appreciated.