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East of Denver Hardcover – July 5, 2012
The Amazon Book Review
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When Shakespeare Williams returns to his family’s farm in eastern Colorado to bury his dead cat, he finds his widowed and senile father Emmett living in squalor. He has no money, the land is fallow, and a local banker has cheated his father out of the majority of the farm equipment and his beloved Cessna. With no job and no prospects, Shakespeare suddenly finds himself caretaker to both his dad and the farm, and drawn into an unlikely clique of old high school classmates: Vaughn Atkins, a paraplegic confined to his mother’s basement, Carissa McPhail, an overweight bank teller who pitches for the local softball team, and longtime bully D.J. Beckman, who now deals drugs throughout small-town Dorsey. Facing the loss of the farm, Shakespeare hatches a half-serious plot with his father and his fellow gang of misfits to rob the very bank that has stolen their future.
Mixing pathos and humor in equal measure, Gregory Hill’s East of Denver is an unflinching novel of rural America, a poignant, darkly funny tale about a father and son finding their way together as their home and livelihood inexorably disappears.
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Having lived east of Denver myself for most of my life I was easily able to visualize the places and people the book talks about.
Coming face to face with your past is never easy. Having to come home to a place where some things have remained static and other things have changed drastically is just plain hard. I don't think Shakespeare was so much of an unmotivated underachiever as someone who was suddenly trapped by his circumstances and muddling through as best he could. Since the story was told from his viewpoint, I'm thinking his talents and abilities were probably downplayed, as he didn't recognize or acknowledge the good qualities in himself. He may have had a little trouble asking for help too. I know some people like that myself.
Dark and poignant. It made me laugh.
L/C Ratio: 70/30
(This means I estimate the author devoted 70% of his effort to creating a literary work of art and 30% of his effort to creating a commercial bestseller.)
35% - Senility
30% - Small town culture
20% - Farming
15% - Humor
East of Denver won the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and after 12 months in the publishing carousel, Gregory Hill's debut novel was released into the wild. It's a simple story with a small cast that hits alternating notes of hilarity and heartbreak.
First-person novels are heavily reliant on the narrator to dictate the tone of the entire text, and that's where East of Denver excels. Hill's protagonist has a fun nickname (Shakespeare), plenty of quirky traits (he has no sense of smell), and a killer sense of humor (especially when it involves his senile father).
The plot of East of Denver is semi-repetitive and only ramps up during the final pages, but the book as a whole does not suffer. Seeing the world through the eyes of Shakespeare is plenty entertaining, and Hill's wry and sparse style makes for an easy read.
I pulled out the old photo album. All photo albums are the same. Just like all dreams are the same. They mean the world to the person who owns them and they're boring as dirt to everybody else.
This novel is really doesn't go anywhere, and had no real ending, but it's entertaining enough. The characters, as miserable as they are, are well drawn. Shakes seems to be the only sane one of the group and so he lends a certain air of normalness to an otherwise crazily abnormal town.