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"Standing at the Crossroads" by Charles Davis

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A surprisingly powerful and deceptively deep novel, “Standing at the Crossroads” packs into a bare 150 pages a thrilling adventure and a timeless morality play. This is a very serious fiction but it has a number of surprisingly tasty treats: a) several laugh-out-loud moments after jokes or insults; b) an ongoing appreciation (first-person, in an internal dialogue) of some of the greatest novelists in history – Melville, Stevenson, Cervantes, Trollope, Austen, Dickens – in a way that bears on the events of the story; c) a well-paced and tender love affair.

This novel also swings back and forth between extremes. The love our narrator finds counterbalances an old hatred that a fanatical soldier has for him; the principals stumble upon a hidden paradise of trees, streams, and colorful birds while running for their lives in the killing Sahara; the subtleties and moral shadings in the world’s best fiction battle the unrelenting zeal and hatred of the roving bands of rapists and murderers, who call themselves the Warriors of God.

It is a wonder that Charles Davis could fit all this into such a compact package. This story has such an unmistakable moral stance that one could call it a parable, but it’s a parable that has fully-developed characters with very true motivations. And layer on top of this confection, a truly suspenseful chase which lasts nearly the entire book, and you have a true marvel. You will not soon forget the hero, called the Story Man, or his erudition, or his carefully-considered philosophy, nor the love he shares with Miss Kate, the crusading but surprisingly naïve Westerner.

I had a very serious wrestling match with this review – I wanted to say everything at once, as in the book, but I wanted to make sure that all I say comes out as praise for this touching, shocking, heartbreaking, endlessly surprising book. Recommended – no, I exhort you to read this book. You will come away richer.
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