Review: Books Cover2CoverA Better Place to Be
by David Wind is inspired by the folk-rock song of the same name by legendary singer-songwriter-storyteller Harry Chapin. This exquisitely-written novel pays homage to the song while creating a detailed back story and character study. It makes sense that a novel would emanate from a Chapin song given the short story nature of much of the late artist's portfolio. In the book, lead character John Edghes' life spirals downward on a long, excruciating, painful journey after life deals him a devastating blow.
The author gets deep inside the mind and soul of John as he paints a realistic portrait of a man's descent into despair and his struggle to reclaim functionality in the real world. It's a long, agonizing, but compelling ordeal that paints a stark portrait of the rocky road to recovery and wholeness. After a stint of homelessness, John finds himself waking up in a rehab center, injured and in trouble with the law. He is kept there under close observation and receives intensive therapy, both mental and physical. It is here that John is forced to confront his reality. The realistic novel does not sugarcoat this. It is an uphill battle filled with pitfalls, false starts, and relapses.
John goes to really dark places, as people do in reality when they are alone and depressed. However, flickers of light manage to find their way into John's life literally and figuratively. The author uses symbolism sparingly but potently to reflect this: "But that didn't matter because it created just enough shadows in the dust motes drifting around the room to keep his mind off the dark thoughts that shut out the weak light entering the room." "The darkness was almost complete. The only light came from a few yellow shafts leeching around the edges of the tightly-pulled shade as the sun did its best to chase away the night."
The reader hopes that John will let some of this light that is determined to find its way into the room with the drawn shades into his life.
Note: The novel can stand alone without being familiar with the song, but I think it's a good idea to listen to it.----Piper Templeton, bookscover2cover.com
###Originally written for "Books and Pals" book blog.
As the description and cover make clear, this book is based on the Harry Chapin song of the same name. Yeah, you know, Harry Chapin. The guy who wrote Taxi (no, not the TV thing with Danny DeVito, the song). Don't know that song? How about Cat's in the Cradle? I guess mentioning 30,000 Pounds of Bananas or W.O.L.D would be pointless. Potential readers of this book are going to fall into two camps. The kids (okay, middle-aged adults) who have no clue who Harry Chapin is and are clueless about the songs he wrote and sung, and those like me, who can still remember the sick feeling he got 36+ years ago when my brother-in-law told me Harry had died that day in a car crash.
For you kids, Harry Chapin's pop-folk songs were story songs. His first big hit, Taxi, packed more oomph than an average novel in a touch shy of seven minutes and, despite being twice as long as a typical radio-ready song of the day, it managed to become a hit.
The author received permission to include the lyrics to A Better Place to Be in his book. He does this by using snippets at various points in the story along with including complete lyrics at the end.
For those not familiar with the song, I think you'll like the book if this is the kind of story you'd normally go for. It's a good story of a life that goes off the rails and of eventually getting things back on track. After reading it, find the song and give it a listen. I'd guess the odds are good it will remind you of the book.
For those already familiar with the song, all of the above might still apply. Or it might not. I suspect it depends on how you feel about this particular song. Most stories require the reader to fill in the gaps to some degree. A song that tells a story or even one without a story, but that makes some kind of point, requires the listener to fill in even more gaps. I found myself struggling with how the author filled in some of the gaps here, because that's not what I imagined was going on in those blank spaces. The author's interpretation wasn't wrong, just different. If this is one of your favorite songs of all time, my advice would be that you might want to stay away. I'm glad I read this, not only because it is a good story, but also because it got me thinking about these things. Now if someone were to write a book based around some of Chapin's other songs (Taxi springs to mind) I might steer clear. I guess I'd summarize my thoughts by saying that even though I'd probably be perceived as smackdab in middle of the target audience for this book, that my feelings about it are mixed.---- Big Al, "Books and Pals"book blog.
That word just comes to mind over and over, in regards to this book, along with the phrase, heart-wrenching. It's good though - incredibly, in a makes-you-feel-things-and-think-things brilliantly good.
Upon first meeting John, he's likable enough. He soon turns out to be sweet and the reader would have to be dead to not feel his love for Claire - and it is mutual. So the two of them have this great, comfortable thing...until tragedy strikes. Then the reader is treated to a gut-wrenching, realistic, accurate view of what happens all too often to too many people. I doubt there's a person alive who cannot relate to this... Still, Wind puts it all so simply and so realistically, it's like nothing I've ever read or am likely to read again.
Not only does he repeatedly rip out my heart and stomp all over it - and I like it somehow, so apparently I'm some kind of sadist - but he perfectly portrays a good - better than average actually- man turning into completely something different, as a result of the bulls--- that life has thrown at him....
....Point is, if you want a book that's real and will make you think, this is the one.
If you don't want to think but like a book that'll give you all the feels, this is also the one. It's well detailed with perfect continuity.
And did I mention it's based on a song? 'A Better Place to Be' by Harry Chapin, a song that'll never be the same for me. It seems completely natural as if the book IS the song and the song IS the book. Brilliantly perfect. -------- J.L. Redding, Reviewer (review condensed)