"Dodgers" by Bill Beverly

No comments

From ancient epics to acknowledged Great American Novels, narrative artists have used physical travel as a metaphor for the inward journey of protagonists; one could cite a thousand examples and just scratch the surface. During these treks the character comes to know herself or himself, and these insights, combined with the reader’s own, show the narrative off, burnishing it with its highest artistic achievements.  In Dodgers Bill Beverly manages a stunningly effective and inevitable transformation for his hero Easton, a teenage gang banger nicknamed “East.” It is fraught with danger, full of emotional intrigue, and compulsively readable: superb.

Fin, at the top of the drug-dealing hierarchy in which East is a foot soldier, sends him and three other gang members on a car trip from L.A. to Wisconsin on gang business of a treacherous and dangerous kind.  As the boys, the oldest of whom is 21, and the youngest13, make their way, there is first a falling-out that makes East, at 15, a co-leader. After they carry out their mission, and rather overdo it in the process, the group finally splinters and East finds himself out on the lam alone.

Mr. Beverly tells these events in gritty and realistic detail. The language he places into his troop’s mouths is pitch-perfect, as are their motivations from beginning to end. In East, he renders a masterful portrait, a young man not as rabid nor filled with blood lust as his homeys. His native intelligence and industry stand him eventually in good stead, after he finds anonymous work (along with acceptance and respect) in America’s hinterlands. We root like crazy for East, watch as his talent and hard work raise him up a little; we worry along with him about whether his past will finally betray him.

I promise: perfect pacing; outstanding, memorable dialog; vivid characterization; sympathetic portraiture; very effective descriptions of place; and a lovely, reverberant treatment where plot serves theme, and author leaves the reader in wonder. Unreservedly, I recommend this. It melds the loftiest of purposes with the grittiest and meanest of situations. Take it up!

"We've Already Gone this Far" by Patrick Dacey

No comments

There is a story in Patrick Dacey’s collection We’ve Already Gone this Far called “Acts of Love.” A down-and-outer encounters another in the cheap motel where he’s gone to live, having been thrown out by his wife. I’ll quote:

"He looked like a large child who, after threatening his parents for so many weeks that he was going to run away, had finally done so but now had gone too far and was looking for way back home.”

If you want a thesis statement for this collection, that will do nicely.

Dacey’s characters find themselves in new and precarious positions: a husband who has lost his wife’s affection has traveled far from home to make love to a yoga instructor he knew in high school. A young man snaps out of his extended adolescence long enough to help a neighbor, who happens to be his former football coach from high school. A woman gives in to her mania for plastic surgery and goes on TV to do “before and after” for a daytime talk show.

These people all share a painful separation from their lives as they once knew them, or thought they knew them. These are fictions of hurt or hurtful people, looking on at their lives as though from the outside. They don’t deal well with others, especially if they’re intimately close to them. And the writing features brilliant strokes, like when the woman doing her radical makeover recognizes that her doctor is actually quite handsome, even with his pockmarked face. Sometimes we encounter a spark of humanity: a fearful, manipulative woman knows what a burden she’s taking on when she returns to her aged old flame to comfort his last years, or the aforementioned onetime football player buries his old resentments toward his coach and acts kindly toward him.

Mr. Dacey varies his subject, but the perfection of his treatment of human doubt and frailty, and confusion and fear, never flags for a moment. The great strength of this collection lies in this consistency.  These characters’ lives flash before us in perfect illumination: their hopes and despairs and desperate gambits ring perfectly true each time.

These stories are uniformly excellent.

"Enigma" by C. F. Bentley

No comments

Enigma is the second in a series of outer space adventures from C.F. Bentley. Called the “Confederated Star Systems” series, this second entry continues the story of General Jake and a high priestess named Sissy as they struggle to maintain peace talks going on between would-be allies as war rages elsewhere.

The story cannot be faulted for not achieving its ambition, because its aim is very  simple: serve up some mild action in an innocuous setting. Not much more need be said.

 We encounter space-borne intrigue (in the form of sparring diplomats), a small bouquet of non-human races, a murder mystery, and ghosts who haunt you during the jump to hyper space. General Jake does his all to save his station, the First Contact Café. Sissy helps him whenever and however she can, because they’re on the same side, and falling into a forbidden love. You can’t really say mayhem ensues because whenever it seems like an actual battle might occur, the narrative sidesteps it and focuses on a different matter.

This book consistently serves up the bewildering sensation of unresolved conflicts that end up not being conflicts at all. It lacks any attempt to get to the kind of philosophical issues that we read modern novels to get a taste of. This is a reasonably entertaining Young Adult book, which may depend on being part of a series to accrete any weight. It is not a series I will be taking up.