Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Ohio Is A Strange Place: A Review Of Crossing Decembers: A Novel by John Booth

by Wred Fright

Recently, a friend wrote me to let me know that he had enjoyed reading my novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus because it had reminded him of his college days. I could relate because I recently read Crossing Decembers; A Novel by John Booth. Booth's novel centers around Bowling Green, Ohio, specifically Bowling Green State University, during the early 1990s, a time when I also attended college there, and Booth gives the reader a good feel for what that place and time felt like. He gets all the details right, among them, the loneliness of the campus on a break; the way the wind swept across the Great Plains and slammed into anyone crossing campus, even to the extent of bowling some over; the intense, though often short-lived student friendships and love affairs that could sprout almost overnight; and even the names of the businesses that made their living catering to the college population such as Pisanello's Pizza. Booth's eye for detail can result in a time trip for the reader, at least this one, but there's more to the novel than that. At first, the slim volume, about 110 pages in length, seems as if it will be an ode to a lost love, the college sweetheart who got away, which is pleasant enough, but unlikely to interest anyone not from their era and locale.

Then the novel gets strange. On its trip down memory lane, it makes a wrong turn into the Twilight Zone. Fortunately, that's a right turn for the reader. What otherwise would have been a sweet paean to Booth's alma mater, and the natural surroundings of Northwest Ohio in general, becomes a literary mindfuck when the narrator finds himself not just caught up in his memories but actually caught up in the past. Or is he? Is it time travel? Is the narrator mad? Has he just imagined a possible life with his college sweetheart but without his wife and daughter? Just as the reader has to question herself or himself as to what actually is going on in the story, the narrator must make some major decisions himself as he embarks on a quest to rewrite the past, present, and future. The novel's short but lingers in a haunting manner.

I don't know if Booth tried to publish the novel with a larger publisher, but if he did I can imagine a typical literary agent either not understanding it ("Make it more like Harry Potter" "Don't make it so confusing") or wanting it set in a more bustling geographic area than Northwest Ohio ("Why not New York? There are trains there." "Make the characters go to Harvard. People like to read about the Ivy League."). If so, let's give thanks he resisted watering down his vision and didn't turn it into another generic thriller, and let's give thanks something like Lulu exists to make the book available in print for $9.99 or electronically for $1.56. It's also available electronically for free through Wowio but advertising's included (maybe for Pisanello's Pizza?). Just about anybody from Northwest Ohio will enjoy the novel for its geographic setting alone, but its well-written weirdness should similarly appeal to readers much farther afield as well.

John Booth can be found online at FieldsEdge.Com and Cornfield Meet. Wred Fright can be found at WredFright.Com. Yes, Wred went to college with John, but probably wouldn't even recognize him on the street now, so you can rest assured dear reader that this review is more or less unbiased. Go Falcons!