|2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Winner!|
James King has been a full-time freelance writer for more than 20 years. Publishing credits include the San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, and a wide variety of business publications. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and has a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Manhattanville College.
From Publishers Weekly: This insightful novel describes the cantankerous Bill Warrington, a Korean War veteran who hopes to connect with his three grown children, Mike, Nick, and Marcy, as well as with his teenage granddaughter, April, before he succumbs to Alzheimer's. Although Alzheimer's is never mentioned by name, the author does a dazzling job of demonstrating its effects by having Bill's interior monologues become increasingly confused and jumbled as the plot moves forward. Each important event is told from the perspectives of all the main players as a way to explore subtle family dynamics and complicated memories. When the 15-year-old April runs away from home, she talks her cranky grandpa into driving with her from Woodlake, Ohio, to San Francisco where she hopes to be a rock singer. Bill's hidden agenda, however, is to force his three alienated children to work together to "rescue" April from the irresponsible old man. Tension increases as the reader realizes that Bill's mind is deteriorating so quickly that he cannot possibly protect April. Will his children forgive Bill's former alcoholism and abusive behavior and reunite before Bill's mind is gone? Will the family be reunited? This exciting novel makes the reader root for them all.
"The title, Bill Warrington's Last Chance, doesn’t nearly do justice to the story this writer tells. The title of a book, like its cover art, is the author's first (and perhaps only) opportunity to entice the would-be reader and should therefore spark curiosity, stimulate the intellect, or evoke an emotional response. While I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a substitute, James King's title seems flat.
In this novel, the basic elements feel familiar, but in the nicest sense of the word. An eccentric and ornery father, Bill Warrington (picture Jack Nicholson), has been diagnosed as being in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He has three estranged adult children whom he rarely sees: son Mike, the regional sales director of a tool-manufacturing company; daughter Marcy, a divorcée who sells real estate; and Nick, a widower who makes a living as a freelance writer/editor for a magazine that once employed him full-time. The fifth family member is Marcy's rebellious fifteen-year-old daughter, April (picture Miley Cyrus), whose two life goals are to go to San Francisco and become a rock star and to acquire her driver's license, though she's not yet old enough to get a learner's permit. The narrative moves among these five characters with chapter breaks crafted to sustain the reader's interest.
As erratic and piecemeal as Bill Warrington's memory might be, he knows he needs to make amends to his children, though he's not always certain what he's guilty of. They, on the other hand, are well aware of his failings and not inclined to forgive. Son Mike holds him responsible for their mother's premature death from cancer, convinced that he hastened her demise. As with many family rifts, the three siblings are barely civil to one another, and not the least bit interested in reconciliation with Dad, even when his world is disintegrating around him. Warrington and his granddaughter form an unexpected bond and when the two of them take off on a cross-country odyssey (she driving without a license, he reminiscing about the past without a coherent thread) the consequences are catalytic, bringing about a not wholly unexpected resolution, but one that satisfies the promise that the novelist makes.
What makes this novel work is that the characters are distinct and well defined, even though in the early scenes Marcy is much too strident and April is annoying, especially when it comes to her computer journal. Both soften in time, but judicious editing might be in order. The good news is that King creates actual character arcs, allowing the reader to witness the changes in attitude and understanding that demonstrate emotional growth. He sets up the conflict and then allows the reader to participate in its resolution. At one point, he passes up the opportunity to dramatize a clash I would have liked to see, but my sympathies were engaged throughout and I was invested in the outcome. As far as I'm concerned, this is what reading is about and what a good book is supposed to do."
|Sue Monk Kidd|
"The late novelist John Gardner wrote that there are only two plots in American fiction--a stranger comes to town or somebody goes on a trip. In this novel, somebody goes on a trip. I really liked Bill Warrington's Last Chance, in part because of its fresh variation on the trip motif. A crusty old guy struggling with the onset of Alzheimer's and burdened with the need to engineer a reconciliation with his grown children, abducts his fifteen-year-old, rock music-loving granddaughter, April, who, it should be said, is a willing 'abductee.' Off these two unlikely co-conspirators go on a misadventure that is part cross-country spree, part kidnapping, part running from life, part quest for redemption, and part unexpected love story. This complicated excursion is masterminded by the old guy's flawed, confused mind, but I never doubted that it came from his desire to do at least one last good thing: mend his torn family.
The real test of a novel like this is whether the author can take such an envelope-pushing scenario and make believers out of us. So much of the book hinges on whether we accept that Bill Warrington would go to such lengths to achieve his desire and whether his granddaughter would join him for her own skewed reasons (which have to do with her ongoing combat with her suffocating mother and her idealistic fantasies about the father who abandoned her). Mostly, I believed--thanks to the author clearly spelling out the characters' motives and how desperate they are to achieve them. Bill's dementia and April's immaturity are also reason to believe. For the fleeting instances when I doubted, I realized my skepticism could be remedied by the author simply reminding the reader in several key moments just how strong those motivations really are.
Bill Warrington's Last Chance is composed of the favored stuff of book clubs. It's full of fascinating things to talk about--like the coming of age of a young girl juxtaposed with an old man's reach for redemption, not to mention the touching, but unsentimental way they grow to care for each other. Also it grapples with the pressing and contemporary matter of Alzheimer's--a raw, uncut version. The disease is portrayed in the life of a tough ex-Marine, an interesting alternative to, say, the beneficent mother. I did feel the old man sometimes appeared too unlikable, too rough, but I was convinced that he'd thoroughly botched his relationship with his three children. Estrangement abounds--between him and his grown children, but also among the children themselves, whose sharp tête-à-têtes and dysfunctional lives are involving in their own way. The history of this family is complex and broken, and each character is a victim of it, sometimes maddeningly so. As the three siblings reluctantly come together to deal with the situation of April and Granddad on the lam, they fail one minute, get it right the next, then screw it up again. They are oh-so-human. But whenever I get an urge to shake characters and shout, 'Grow up, already,' it's a sign their victimhood is getting out of hand. I had that urge at least twice, but something made me stick with these siblings, likely the author's compelling picture of their pain. Whatever the reason, I did not stop caring about them.
For me, fifteen-year old April stole the show. Though the title of the book suggests the crux of the story is about a father who wants to make things right with his exasperating children who may or may not allow him that chance, she was the one I pulled for, the character with the most affecting transformation through her bond with an impossible old man. Thank goodness for her humor and the way her funniness balances the raw moments. Perhaps one of the best things you can say about a novel is that the story lingers after you finish it. I have gone on thinking about this one without trying."
|Eamon Dolan, Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, The Penguin Press|
"Everything about this novel is sharp--the angular prose, the twisty plot, the keenly etched details of place and person, the barbs characters fling at one another. Yet the reader comes out the back of this book with his eyes tearing up and his mind opened to the possibility that resentment, regret, and anger can yield to understanding and hope, even in the most dysfunctional families. Three generations of Warringtons have become strangers to one another, whether separated by hundreds of miles or a few feet. Bill, a salty ex-marine in his seventies, shares little with his three grown children except a short fuse and a biting wit. But he wants to reunite his family and heal old wounds before his memory fades completely. When his kids fail to heed his invitation, he runs away with his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, April, on a cross-country trek designed to fulfill her dream of seeing San Francisco (and driving without a license) and his desire to force his offspring together. The plot feels contrived on occasion, but the reader is apt to forgive a few extra twists because they allow us to see the various Warringtons sparring amongst themselves. Bill and April's bond is the unlikeliest and most convincing element of this book--a sullen teenager and an angry old man who nudge each other out of their brittle shells toward wisdom."
|Barney Karpfinger, Founder, The Karpfinger Agency|
"The salesman hero of Bill Warrington's Last Chance by James King is no Willy Loman. Putting food on his family's table wasn't always easy, and his smart mouth didn't help him hang on to his jobs. But as he tells his wife, Clare, in a moving flashback, there'll be another big sale. And there are enough to make a decent middle-class life.
No, his beloved Clare was the one who didn't make it, a victim of bone cancer. Years later, the aftershocks of her early death still rumble through the family. Now Bill is old and alienated from his three adult children, who are in turn alienated from one another--Mike, a successful salesman himself and a serial adulterer; Nick, a widower and freelance writer; and Marcy, a divorced realtor and mother of fifteen-year-old April. And Bill's doctor has just told him that he has Alzheimer's.
So he's losing it. Still, he hasn't yet lost his sharp wit. And he's determined to bring his family together before he loses it altogether. But how to bring together three opinionated adults who barely talk to one another, let alone to him? The scheme, such as it is, involves family memories, the highway, his granddaughter, April, and his 1994 Chevy Impala SS.
Bill Warrington's Last Chance is a powerful account of a flawed man trying to do what's right by his family. The characters, especially April and Bill, come sparklingly to life. Often funny, sometimes deeply moving, this novel is always compelling. If it was up to me, it would win this competition hands down. I can't wait to see what the talented James King writes next."