Ray Shackleford, the narrator of GLIMPSES, knows his music, as a former professional musician. While thinking about the Beatles’ last album, which was to have been GET BACK, the stereo repairman discovers that his imagined music has been recorded. He takes the tape to Graham Hudson of Carnival Dog records, who releases a bootleg CD and encourages Ray to create the Doors’ unfinished CELEBRATION OF THE LIZARD.
Ray discovers that to create the album, he has to learn to think like Jim Morrison. Morrison’s thoughts and reactions to events stay with him even when he is not thinking about the album, and he finds similarities between Morrison’s background and his own, particularly regarding feelings about his father. After the album is completed, Hudson convinces Ray to create Brian Wilson’s SMILE. This time, the process of creation takes Ray back to 1966 and Brian Wilson’s house. He convinces Wilson to finish the album. Ray comes back to the present, having been unconscious for several days. He is able to create the album, having heard it. His trip to the past seems real, but Wilson’s version of the album still has not been made.
Ray’s final project is Jimi Hendrix’s FIRST RAYS OF THE NEW RISING SUN. This time, creating the lost album requires that he journey into the past to keep Hendrix alive. His attempts to do so lead him to realizations about his father’s death, which occurred just prior to the time of the story.
GLIMPSES is a powerful story of personal growth. Shiner describes Ray’s emotions perfectly, letting his discoveries about himself flow naturally from the action of the story. Music fans will appreciate the level of detail involved in Ray’s trips to the past. Shiner has made it easy to get caught up in the fantasy of bringing lost music back to life.
Lewis Shiner does an admirable job of creating Rays world. Ray is a lover of music. Before becoming a stereo repairman, he had been the drummer in a somewhat successful band, and he cares about the creation of music. The first half of Glimpses is infused with the spirit of the music of the 1960’s, and Shiner draws the reader into Rays world by providing details of that period and of various performers lives.
Glimpses, however, is far more about Rays relationship to his father and to his past than it is about music. Shiner ultimately uses Rays inner travels in time as a device to get him to consider his past and realize that he cannot change it. Even if he could, there might be disastrous results, such as the premature death of Brian Wilson and of the man Morrison kills with his car.
By creating the “lost albums,” Ray brings into existence things that were not meant to be. He tries to do the same in his life, to create a father who shows affection for him and appreciation for what he does, or at least to understand why his father did not show appreciation. When Rays father tells him to let go, he means that Ray should stop trying to change the past.
From the encounter in heaven, Rays life moves forward quickly. He makes a final break with Elizabeth, then visits former girlfriends and discovers that his relationships with them were what they had to be. Lori is the only thing in his life that is not stale. His new relationship with her shows that he can shed the past and create a new future. He even buys a guitar and plans to write some songs, to create something new.
Glimpses, Shiners most successful book to that point, won the 1993 World Fantasy Award. His output has varied, including the fantasy of Glimpses, the Magical Realism of Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988), and the straightforward science fiction of Frontera (1984), his first novel.