Friday, July 15, 2011

On "The Real Pleasure in Life" (the novel) by Al Dixon ****

This unpublished book is the work of my friend Al Dixon. I have read two of his previous books before, both of them collections of stories, one of which shares the name of this novel. Both collections include a few stories that astound me. This is the first time I've read a full unpublished novel by any of my friends. And it was a good one to start with, one that will be hard to beat.

And yet, I find myself not fully able to process the work--not yet at least. I think it may take a year or so to settle out before I am more certain what I think of it. The issue is this: the characters in the novel bear a resemblance to many people I know (including me), and the places discussed are locations right around the town where I live. So on one level, I enjoyed reading the book just to see who showed up and how Al would characterize the people inside. Since I am a person who knows the much of the material from which the author is drawing, the settings and characters seem incredibly lifelike, incredibly well drawn. But I wonder if I would think the same as a person unfamiliar with the people and places--that is, unfortunately, a question I won't ever be able to answer. (It's also strange to read of one's self: some things, I was like, "I wouldn't do that," but then I had to remind myself this was fiction; and the egocentric part of me kept waiting for me to show up again.)

What the novel definitely has going for it is enthusiasm. It reminded me quite a bit of Jack Kerouac's On the Road. This is not to say that the book is about a road trip--hardly. It's more that the text has a zest for life that Kerouac's second book also has, and it has that kind of feel of letting you hang out with friends without being too obsessed about plot (though there definitely is more of a plot here than in Kerouac's book). I kept thinking, as I read, about how if I were twenty again and Al was a total stranger, I might very well be all over this book, wanting to do as the characters in this book do, to come and meet these people and hang out in this town. And maybe, just maybe, that might be true of other readers. We'll see, if the work ever sees publication (getting agented can be tough, especially when a work is more character driven than plot driven).

The text concerns a guy who one day finds a card in his home from a coffee shop where he has never been. For some reason, he feels drawn to the place and to finding out how the card got into his possession, so when his significant other takes off for a painting exhibit, the character decides to spend the weekend driving to the town in question to find the purveyor of the card. Problem is that his car breaks down when he gets to town, and suddenly he's stranded in this strange and friendly place--and drawn to it as well, so drawn, in fact, that a job has already been arranged for him at the coffee shop whose card he has and some people seem even to already know him, but no one will tell him why or from where.

You can read excerpts and learn more about the book here.

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