A Long Way From Nowhere
A Novel by John Thomas Dodds
Reviewed by Clare Gearhart
John Thomas Dodd’s muse is in overdrive! Last month his book of poetry was positively reviewed in OJO. Now, for those who don’t groove on the distilled language of poetry, John has published his debut novel,” A Long Way from Nowhere.” Here is a work with gritty scenes, snappy contemporary dialog, and adventures that hark back to the Viet Nam era in Texas. It is a compendium of excitement, wonder, suspense, romance, confrontation, and unexpected resolution. If poetry seems inaccessible, let this novel grab you by the short hairs and involve you in “Luc Barbon’s” hilarious, poignant and kaleidoscopic exploits as he seeks to give meaning to his very existence.
The author’s transition from poet to novelist is equivalent to an artist moving from doing small etchings to painting large and fully colored and textured canvases. His muse must be ecstatic! The dialogue is quick, colloquial and contemporary, the characters fully formed with amazing unconventional eccentricities, the relationships while sometimes profound and nuanced, also can reflect the Slam-Bam-Thank you-Mam character of life among the twenty-somethings. It’s almost as if the author is now telling us what he really wanted to say, and including all the humorous, improbable and pathetic conundrums that constitute a part of a life well lived.
The structure of the novel is evocative of the picaresque adventure, artfully updated. While a picaro is usually a bit of a cynical rogue and a rascal, Luc has a sort of naïve goodwill, and a deep love for all the women who weave their way through his life. He moves through time, not restricted by the constraints of a plot, but guided by an ineffable desire for connection and a sense of wellbeing and being well. Though his stated goal has to do with academic achievement, his more apparent aim is to understand and experience the ways and meanings of love and relationship.
Rather than formatting the novel in chapters, Luc’s tale is comprised of five books and an epilog. Each book begins with aquote extracted from the upcoming segment. Book 5 begins “They made love that evening as if they were ending a chapter in their lives, a chapter where the tumbleweed once uprooted, can never return to that moment in time. Both silently acknowledged the unpredictability of the wind.” Such a creative device not only sets a tone, but manages to comment on the nature of time and connectedness and relationship deepening and enhancing the overall theme.
Since Luc is an American by birth, but a Canadian by heritage and early experience, his sojourn in Texas is truly that of a stranger in a strange land. He moves through the wealthier and seamier sections of Dallas, to a small town in northeast Texas with social conventions and constraints respected by many but worked around by the wealthy few, most delightfully possibly by a fiftyish gentleman characterized as “a walk-in closet gay.” Rather than getting caught up in judgment, Luc seems to have an ever renewing sense of curiosity and discovery as fresh complications and challenges turn up. Fortunately for Luc, it is not uncommon for him to come upon such exotic creatures as a vision with a soft Texas drawl, a “canopy of red hair and a cowboy shirt, its metal buttons barely holding on.”
It takes a poetic vision to conclude a novel leaving the reader awash in a new landscape, and satisfied with fresh insight and understandings, yet all the while yearning for more. It’s as if one just ate a sumptuous desert, and though fully sated, one still harbors the hope that the experience will happen again. Treat yourself to this book! Enjoy the ride, make friends with the out of the ordinary people and be exhilarated by the unexpected. Then take a moment to pray that John continues to write fiction!
(Ed. Note: The novel can be found on amazon.com, and locally at Galleria Sol y Luna and Diane Pearl’s boutique.)