Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: Far Beyond the Pale by Daren Dean

I got a review copy of +Daren Dean's new novel, Far Beyond the Pale and was pleasantly surprised. I've been given review copies before and I've wondered if the people who are giving them to me have read my other reviews before asking. I don't think I'm an overly generous reviewer. I want people to trust me if I recommend something. Enough about me. How's the book?

In this darkly comic novel Nathan "Honey Boy" Kimbrough narrates a boy's search for a father and his mother's search for a "good man" in the mid-1970s. (from Amazon.)

Far Beyond the Pale had a real Tales of a Texas Boy (by +Marva Dasef ) feel to it, which is probably a book you've never heard of but that I heartily recommend as well. Tales is available on audiobook through audible and it's worth the listen even if it's short, only a bit over two hours I think. Daren Dean's novel was in my sweet spot for nostalgia. I grew up in the seventies in the South and while this takes place in Missouri instead of Alabama (where I grew up until I was 11) it has a real Southern novel feel to it that I particularly liked and felt right at home with. 

The language is what really stands out in this book. Daren Dean's command of colloquial Southern at the time was almost lyrical to read.

Here are some of my favorite quotes. Remembering that this book is narrated from the point of view of a thirteen year old in Missouri in the seventies:

  • Aunt Oleta had always been the type that if you throwed her in the river she’d float upstream 
  • Vaughn knew when to disappear. He had a sixth sense about cops, and a scanner. 
  • “I’ll tell you what . . .” Roy chewed on his peanuts with his front teeth. “If she gets to heaven she’ll ask to see the upstairs.” 
  • Mrs. Trapp always went around with hair piled up Pentecostal style.
I loved reading it. I liked the people in it and I liked the kid's real struggle to be good in spite of not always doing good.

The cast of characters is varied and they're fleshed out enough to feel like real people. There were times when I caught myself wanting to go to the crappy little town and visit it, stop at the gas station and get some of that Doctor Prune Juice and shoot the breeze with the gas station owner... forty years since the book was supposed to have taken place and the part where it's fiction make such a trip unlikely barring my finding a TARDIS.

I've been reading a lot of books lately where the people in them are all bigger than life, great at everything with no flaws. Space Opera type Übermensch as the good guys and incredibly hollow bad guys... I haven't reviewed those. Mom said if I couldn't say something nice about someone I shouldn't say anything... the characters in this book are flawed and human. They seem to be trying with what they've got doing what they can to get by. Some with the church, and some by trying to find safety and security for themselves and their son in the arms of a man... I know people like these people in this book. Nobody's an Übermensch and nobody's perfect, but they're all trying. I like that... to be fair, Vaughn isn't trying in any kind of way anybody else likes, but he's playing the hand he was dealt and doing the only way he knows how... it's not a good way and probably won't end well for him.

If you're looking for a good summer-time read I recommend Far Beyond the Pale

* Interesting note: he used the word "dork" in the book and I thought that seemed like an anachronism until I looked up the etymology and saw that it was coming into common usage in the Midwest in the mid-to-late sixties and originally mean well, penis and came to mean someone who looked uncool which is exactly how it's used in the book. 

** I had a review copy (digital) and there were some editing issues that I suspect have been cleared up by now. 
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