My first novel review for Fiction Today is Paul Keene’s “Among the JIMSON WEEDS”, which is the first book in his Running Nowhere Trilogy. The other books in this Trilogy are “Between Pieces” (Book 2) and “Within Time” (Book 3).
Now, I really enjoyed this story, as well as Paul Keene’s writing style. The book is a flowing, comfortable read, which kept me engaged and turning the pages in anticipation of what would happen next in the life of the protagonist Conor Kelman. Conor is a boy who is entering his teenage years full thrust, but without a solid foundation on how to navigate what can be turbulent years.
Mr. Keene certainly gets to the heart of the thoughts and emotions Conor is experiencing as he grows up in the 1950’s in small towns in America. The joy of this book is how the author blends very well human drama with humor. It’s a mix that mirrors real life in all its complexities.
I found it very easy to relate to Conor, as well as the friends he accrues along the way, and the other characters he meets as his life unfolds sometimes chaotically. Fundamentally, Conor is different. His home life is not ideal. He believes his father Franklin thinks he’s strange in his ways, and therefore favors his older brother over him.
Conor has his best friend, which is a guitar called Gabbie. He talks to this guitar as if it was a real person. Conor also talks to the ghost he believes inhabits the guitar, Red Nolan, a deceased musician who was Gabbie’s original owner. So, right off, the reader does sense that something is different about Conor.
The principal claims of “Among the JIMSON WEEDS” are the search for belonging and the ownership of something of value by Conor Kelman. These are what Conor wants but they prove elusive to him throughout the story. I believe the author has nicely delivered on these two claims.
The strength of this novel is the seamless flow from one situation and/or incident to the next. The author captures well the day-to-day life in small towns and how one’s thoughts and actions one day can be overwhelming and, like a roaring river, flow into and influence the day just ahead.
As well, Mr. Keene gets inside the head of Conor and lets us experience the thoughts of a 13-14-year-old boy in a much simpler time, though an era not without its own challenges and proclivities.
In this novel, the author successfully argues that alienation can have a wearing effect on anyone, of any age. Conor is searching for love and believes he’s found it in Wylina, a girl who has touched his heart in a way it’s never been affected before. This wonderful feeling grabs hold of Conor and he’s desperate to never let this joy in his life go.
The thrust of the novel is Conor’s relationship with, and thoughts about, Wylina, which drive much of what he does. Along the way, a cast of other characters inhabit Conor’s life. Additionally, the flotsam and jetsam of typical 50’s teenage activity becomes part of the story as well. This includes music, baseball, school, moving from town to town, relationships with siblings, parents, and small town communities as a whole.
Of particular note in the novel is Conor making sure he tells people, “I’m Conor. With one n.” He wants to be recognized as an individual who is unique and who has value. Conor searches for belonging and ownership via his relationship with Wylina, his striving to be the starting pitcher for his high school baseball team, through his music, and through wanting to somehow fit in properly with others his age.
His early teenage years are not of the goody two shoes variety. He smokes, gets involved in beer drinking, spends time with a wily hobo in an abandoned train boxcar, and even embarks on a road trip with a friend’s brother in search of a house of shall I say “ill-repute’.
So, the novel is at times somewhat gritty, rough in its vernacular, while still showing, with empathy, what works in the mind of youth as they are marching toward the age of major responsibility and accountability, which is just a few short years away.
I recommend this novel wholeheartedly to anyone seeking an enjoyable read that touches the heart and funny bone at the same time. You will not be disappointed in the tale of Conor Kelman in the 50’s as he lives his life in small towns in America, with mood swings and machinations that match the frequency of his family’s moves from town to town.