Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Runaway - Peter May

Peter May

For a group of teenagers, Glasgow in 1965 seems to offer little to no future.  Especially if the future you want is as a rock and roll band.  London – the Big Smoke – that’s where all the action was happening.  Like so many other young people, they are completely captivated by the sounds of the Beatles, the Kinks, and so many others.  They’ve been doing fairly well in their community as a cover band and have dreams far beyond the staid lives presented by their parents.  When their de facto leader, Jack, gets expelled from school for having a bit of cannabis, they all decide, each for his own reasons, to leave immediately.

The story begins in the present day, a literal lifetime away from their time in London.  Maurice, once their lead singer, calls to ask Jack for his help.  Jack owes him.  Maurice has terminal cancer and is probably weeks away from his own death.  There’s something that he must set right before he dies.  Jack can’t do this alone, so he enlists the help of his own very reluctant grandson, Ricky, and that of Dave, the onetime bassist.  Together, the four retrace that 1965 path to London, while Jack confronts his own past actions.

This story is related by present-day Jack, now a man pushing seventy.  He’s looking back at his life and is not particularly happy.  His wife died a few years ago, his son and daughter-in-law couldn’t wait to put him in a home for the aged.  His grandson is a computer genius who lost his first job and never found another.  That time in London was a true turning point in all of their lives.  Nothing was the same afterwards, for any of them, for all kinds of reasons.  The bond that was formed, though, is still strong some fifty years later. 
As it happens, the author once ran away to London as a teenager.  His experiences obviously color those scenes. There’s a true energy to this tale that jumps off the page. The characters might be people you know; they’re individuals, each with his own history and motives.  Human relationships are rarely neat and tidy.  It’s satisfying to witness Ricky and Jack, coming to appreciate each other as individuals.  Watching the relationship between Jack and Maurice evolve is very bittersweet.  They were best friends until London; even in the present day, Maurice is holding back secrets because of his own resentment.  I doubt I would have been brave (or foolhardy) enough to make that kind of trip, but I’m glad I got to go along with Jack, twice.        
Rating: 7 ½
February 2016
ISBN# 978-0-62365-789-5 (hardcover)

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Perfect Days - Raphael Montes

Perfect Days: A Novel
Raphael Montes
(translated by Alison Entrekin)
Penguin Press
Crime Fiction

 This is one of those rare novels that utterly defies simple classification.  It is crime fiction; it’s also a road trip; it’s psychological suspense; and it is a very peculiar love story.  The two main characters are Teo and Clarice. Teo is a medical student.  A loner by nature, he lives very much in his own head.  His intellect allows him to sail through classes; caring for his wheelchair-bound mother adds to his sense of voluntary isolation.  Clarice wants to be a screenwriter.  She’s a free spirit, a sort of modern bohemian.  The only thing she takes seriously is her writing.  One afternoon, she spends the time it takes to smoke a cigarette in idle chat with a stranger at a party.

A chance meeting at a barbeque, a few moments of bantering conversation, is all it takes for Teo to fall for Clarice.  For Teo, the singular nature of his attraction to Clarice means that their relationship is destined to be real and lasting and meaningful.  The fact that he knows almost nothing about her is irrelevant.  They’ll get to know each other, spend time together in deep and thoughtful conversation.  He can see it all unfolding in his mind’s eye.  When she tells him she’s just not interested, he snaps and kidnaps her.  While that action was impulsive, the ease with which he formulates plans and conceives of methods to keep her subdued is frightening. 
The rest of the story is their journey, both as individuals and together.  Teo truly believes that all he needs is enough time to show her that he loves her and supports her.  He carefully encourages her with her screenplay, even reading it and giving notes.  The two move across Brazil, following the path of the screenplay characters. The author writes with such assurance, it’s hard to believe this is only his second novel.  Not for the faint of heart or stomach, this novel is deeply disturbing on multiple levels.   
Rating: 7 ½
February 2016
ISBN# 978-1-594-20640-5 (hardcover)