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Touch and Go Paperback – September 27, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
"Nodine's cinematic novel deserves to be hailed as one of the year's finest fiction debuts. In addition to creating a memorable cast [of] characters--including Kevin, the blind unemployed journalist and recovering addict who narrates this contemporary road story--Nodine treats readers to a realistic portrayal of multicultural America and manages to make the plot pivot at the height of Hurricane Katrina's fury in Biloxi, Miss. Kevin, his husband-and-wife sponsors, and the couple's two foster sons (one African-American and one Hispanic) hop into a battered station wagon nicknamed "Betsy" and travel through the South to deliver a handmade wooden casket for a dying grandfather. From Burbank, Calif., to Pensacola, Fla., they face peril and unexpected delays, with the rag-tag "family" falling prey to drugs, violence, deceit, and greed. However, an extended denouement and a last-minute plot twist will leave readers hoping that Nodine will pen a sequel. He deserves kudos for making this rollicking, often heartbreaking, tale believable, especially given the inherent constraints of having a blind narrator. With an honest, vulnerable voice, Kevin proves to be an appealing protagonist, never afraid of showing his feelings, and treating people with the respect he never received." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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The fact of the road trip is not that original, but that doesn't matter since it is really just a vehicle for Kevin's personal journey. It has been two years since he left rehab, and it is time for him to loosen the ties that bind him and to begin to remember and feel. Out of his element while on the trip, he is forced to think - about his independence, his guilt, his blindness, his responsibilities and his needs.
He is forced to do more than think as the family arrives in Biloxi on the eve of Katrina. I was skeptical when I read that they would be driving into the hurricane area, but the storm becomes as much a character here as it was in the movie "Key Largo." It is the catalyst that enables this family to change.
Although Isa is Kevin's caregiver, he is a natural parent. I would like to be as good a listener and as perceptive as he is. Kevin's role in the lives of Ray and Devon calls to mind Howard from David King's "The Ha-Ha."
I can give "Touch and Go" high praise by saying I didn't try to anticipate what would happen along the way. I was so taken by Nodine's writing and by the honesty and openness of the narrator, Kevin, that I had no desire to do anything but let the story unfold. The surprises in the book were just that - surprises. Usually I would loan a book like this to my sister because she'd enjoy it, but I'm holding on to it, because I know I will read it again - sooner rather than later.
The writing is top-notch. All the characters are original, not stereotypes, and yet seem very true to life, like people you might have met. The dialog is breezy and natural, but it's really Kevin who steals the show. His narration is great--lots of interesting turns of phrase, and insights into himself and the other characters, even when he doesn't quite realize it at the time. It's kind of a late coming of age story, as he figures out how to be a responsible adult, even with, or because of, all the dysfunction around him.
This is an amazing book. There are so few writers who even attempt to write from the perspective of a blind person. On the other hand, there are tons of books with blind characters that are totally unrealistic, or that just use them as a plot device. Not so here. Kevin is a fully alive and deeply sympathetic character, and also completely believable. The author clearly did a lot of research, because he totally nailed it. It's so refreshing to read about a blind character who is not bitter or angry all the time, but just kind of gets on with his life the best he can. I'm only sad it wasn't longer.
Touch and Go is surprisingly good. The story glows with a heightened visceral voice more perceptive than many sighted narrators in recent novel reads. A handsome, lyrical and touching debut by Thad Nodine.