As Ty guested on my blog on 22nd November, I uploaded his book More Than Kin
for the princely sum of £2.15 -- and I have to say that other than Terry Pratchett's Snuff
, it is the cleanest and least error-pocked text I've yet encountered.
Walt Johnson has been a rolling stone most of his life, moving from town
to town and living on the edges of homelessness. Now he has run out of
time as lung cancer has left him only months to live. Walt then begins a
quest to find the son with whom he lost contact decades earlier.
Out of money, he lands a job at a small-town restaurant in an attempt to
save enough to buy a bus ticket to the last known whereabouts of his
son. The friends Walt makes at his new job soon become family for him,
especially 14-year-old Danny who is emotionally paralyzed at the loss of
his own father in Iraq. Faced with Danny's struggles to grow up and the
struggles of his other new friends, Walt comes to realize he is not
only on a journey to find his own son, but he is on a journey to find
himself worthy of being a father.
As you may have gathered from the blurb, while Johnston is principally a
Fantasy writer, this offering is set in contemporary America. So, an
elderly dying man befriends a troubled teenager and gets side-tracked
from his quest to track down his son. Does Johnston manage to evoke the
sense of urgency and regret expected from a man with only months to live
-- without lapsing into sentimentality?
If you're looking for an adrenaline-fueled slice of escapism, this
isn't it. The writing effectively evokes Walt's failing strength as he
still yearns for the next cigarette and cup of coffee as soon as he
pitches up in yet another small town on his constant wanderings.
I've never been to America, but had no problem envisaging the setting
thanks to Johnston's slick writing and assured characterization of Walt.
It would have been easy to have put a Disney spin on this tale --
especially given the forename of the protagonist -- but I'm glad to say
this didn't happen. The gentle pace is deceptive as it doesn't prevent
Johnston dealing with some gnarly issues -- concerns that globalization
is swallowing up small town values, is one of the recurring themes.
I found it fascinating that a spokesman for small town America -- a
country often perceived as purveying many commercially crass values
around the globe -- should also share the worries I regularly hear voiced
here in Britain.
In addition, Walt's regret at his lapsed relationship with his own son
wasn't ducked. I was impressed at Johnston's ability to draw out the
poignancy of a life wasted on too much booze. It seemed a terrible shame
that an intelligent man with the right instincts had ended up living on
the edges of society for so long.
Johnston's depiction of a young teenager devastated at the loss of his
father didn't pull any punches, either -- and the fact that his father
died in Iraq added teeth to the situation. Other social issues were also
addressed, such as the seeming growth of gangs of disaffected
youngsters who spend their spare time causing trouble.
The only aspect of the book that got a bit treacly for my taste were the
passages featuring Libby. Other than that, I feel that Johnston
adroitly avoided the temptation to coat this thought-provoking storyline
with a layer of sentiment.
I'm conscious that so far I may have given the impression that this is a
slow-paced trudge through a worthy subject -- and it's nothing of the
sort. While no zombies or aliens make an appearance, there is still
plenty of narrative tension to keep readers wanting to turn the pages -- I
devoured the book in two sittings. Overall, this is an accomplished
exploration of some of the issues bedeviling contemporary society in a
story that still manages to deliver its message with charm and lack of
I'm certainly going to be uploading the first of Johnston's Fantasy offerings -- if City of Rogues
is written as well as this, it'll be well worth reading.