Blame it on Oprah. Her penchant for finding strange but true stories and putting them on daytime television has inspired not only the tele-shrink career of Dr. Phil, but a novel by an Iranian immigrant living here in Portland.
And, though it’s a suspense thriller, the themes and ideas make Ali Alavi’s The Tombland’s Tale (self-published; 269 pages; $12.95) the kind of on-your-toes-but-feeling-good book Oprah might even like. Plus, it’s fiction, so she needn’t worry about any messy disclosures later.
Alavi, an earnestly softspoken USM grad who moved to Portland as an international student at USM in 1995, set his book in his adopted home, the Forest City, and on Peaks Island, using some of his own frequent haunts, like the USM campus and Exchange Street, and other vaguely camouflaged local elements (“the Atlantic Pearl, a floating restaurant” and the “A.P. Warren” paper company )as settings . Released last week, the creepy thriller explores the disappearance of three exotic dancers who work at a Portland strip club.
In this, his first novel, Alavi found a use for a character he had had in mind for a while, a forensic psychologist with spiritual leanings named Rashid Sanjih. Sanjih, a USM professor, plays mentor to Christopher Wayne, a character based on Alavi himself. Wayne, like Alavi at the time he was writing the book, is an engineer beginning to realize that what he thought he wanted to do in life was not making him happy any more . Inspired by a late-night conversation with his mentor, Wayne retreat s to coastal Maine to write a novel.
Alavi, who has written three poetry collections in his native Persian and several short stories, knew that if was going to use his professor as a character, the psychologist would need a narrative conflict.
Alavi was stymied until he saw an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show devoted to the real-life tale of a man who had abducted several women and kept them imprisoned for year s. Alavi knew that that story — including an on-camera interview with one of the victims — would form the basis of the book’s plot.
Into that mix Alavi threw some of the research he had been doing at USM, studying business administration, focusing on Jungian analysis of decision-making, seeking the subconscious motivations behind business choices. Inspired in part by New Hampshire author Wayne Dyer’s book The Power of Intentions as well as spiritually influenced fiction by Paulo Coelho, Alavi uses his protagonist to survey the concept that a person who puts himself in a positive, open state of mind causes inspiration to come and positive events to occur. It’s just the sort of concept Oprah credits with her own success. Chalk up another one for the Queen of Lazy Afternoons.