When this book started off in a topless bar, I sighed. Rats. Another slacker story. I hate slacker stories. I have no compassion for drunks, druggies or the slacker culture. Boy, what a prissy thing I am.
But I persevered, and was so glad I did, because it is not really about slacker-ness, it is about finding out what we … and this life … are all about. And it is a typical quest tale. I love a good quest tale.
Andy Penny has almost died four times. So what does that mean? He is not meant to die? He is still alive for some purpose? He is 40 years old and lives alone in a trailer park in Florida., with a nothing job And then one late night, sees one of those reality cop shows where the police are called to the home of an abuser, and the abused woman staring into the camera is the teen love of Andy’s life, now beaten, and empty of hope. He hasn’t seen her in twelve years. What has happened to her?
The quest. The Hero’s journey. According to Joseph Campbell, there are 10 parts to the monomyth of the hero’s journey:
- the call to adventure
- refusal of the quest
- accepting the call
- entering the unknown
- supernatural aid
- talisman – a special and often magical item to assit the hero
- tests and the supreme ordeal
- reward and the journey home
- master of two worlds/restoring the world
The Quest archetypes are:
- shadows – villains, enemies
- mentors – a guide, or guiding principles
- herald – the one who brings the call to adventure. Could be a person or event
- threshold guardians – forces that stand in the way at important turning points, including jealous enemies, professional gatekeepers, or even the hero’s own doubts and fears
- tricksters – clowns and mischief makers
- allies – characters who help the hero throughout the quest
- woman as temptress – sometimes a female character offers danger to the hero.
This story has all these fine elements. I wonder if it was written with a copy of Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces at hand? As soon as it dawned on me that it followed the classic quest structure, I had fun picking out the ten steps, and the archetypes.
The Call to Adventure is the cop TV show where Andy sees his old girlfriend, and decides to make sense of his still being alive, he must go to Des Moines, Iowa, to rescue her. He has an ally, his best buddy, he meets up with some paranormal characters, and there are plenty of obstacles in his way. His talisman are fortune cookies, which always seem to have something spookily relevant to say, one being
Do not throw away pennies, as they will one day make dollars.
There is yet time enough for you to take a different path.
Told in first person, present tense, with new chapters or sections starting right in, in the middle of a sentence, it makes for interesting and creative reading. It is not always clear whether he is dreaming, or in a coma, or we are the ones in the coma, or the author is the one dreaming. It is really a rather surreal experience, this read. I hope you read it. And I hope you look for the Quest structure.
Reading fiction is not just for getting lost in the story. Use it to learn something, to exercise your mind. You know. Use it or lose it.