” Time doesn’t heal as much as it buries things in the undergrowth of your brain, where they lie in wait to ambush you when you least expect is . . . Loneliness doesn’t exist on any single plane of consciousness. It’s generally a low throb, barely audible, like the hum of a Mercedes engine in a park, but every so often the demands of the highway call for a burst of acceleration . . . ” (Ch. 4, p.28-29)
Self-deprecatingly funny about provocatively insightful, The Book of Joe is the story of a writer who was once an alienated youth but achieves literary success with a novel that salvages his hometown and its people. Using real people as props, Joe Goffman subjects those who rubbed him the wrong way to exaggerated proportions in his book. He cares less about the town’s furious reception and defensive denials from all involved in the events described because he never thought about going back to Bush Fallas after he graduated from high school. But after a 17-year absence, his father’s medical condition obliges him to return and cope with a past he tried so hard to bury.
Your penchant for self-analysis—which is, by the way, another manifestation of your egotism—is further complicated by immense feelings of inferiority. You don’t allow yourself to become fully engaged because deep down you feel undeserving of approval, love, success, et cetera. All of the things you crave. (Ch. 6, p.44)
Doubtless the controversial author’s return is not a big hit with the locals, who view the book as nothing short of libel, written with deliberate malice and the intent to sully reputations. Within twenty four hours of his arrival to his neck of the wood, where everyone antagonizes him (the book club dumps a box full of his books, spines cracked, in his lawn), Joe has been reunited, however awkwardly, with his estranged family and old flame, has walked in on a sexual liaison, got in trouble with the law, been assaulted on two separate occasions, and met up with an ailing friend whose life is on its final straw.
It’s a lyrical mystery I have in mind, about a son who returns home to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding his estranged father’s death, excavating clues and his own troubled past as he goes. (Ch. 25, p.218)
The Book of Joe, beneath its burst of humor and sharp one-liners, carries an emotional heft. The return home presents Joe a second chance to grow up—to grow out of his immaturity, to cope with the hurt feelings, and to take responsibility for the people he left behind. Tropper does a beautiful job interweaving all the issues revolving around family, relationships, friendship and missed opportunity into a book that flows seamlessly. Joe’s narrative and his book of events in 1986 alternate to tell the story. Confronted with the family, whose love he so desperately yearns for, Joe can no longer contain his deep feelings of guilt, loneliness and loss. He feels an ambivalence over his own feelings, a sense of disorientation over the years, especially toward his father, to whom he never felt close—because his father never knew how to relate to a guy who is not an athlete.
I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t help bitterly observing that even in death my father has managed to remind me one last time of my exclusion from the privileged inner circle he and Brad inhabit as Cougars. (Ch. 23, p.196)
The Book of Joe concerns with one’s reconciliation with his past–namely, dealing with his “ghost.” What was left unresolved over 17 years finally comes around in full circle, facilitated by, sadly, the deaths of two people that have contributed to the memories of his formative years. What transpires from his interactions with his dying friend, whom he sought to protect back in the days when nobody was prepared to deal with one’s homosexuality, as well as the basketball coach whom he singled out for a negative portrayal finally makes Joe a complete man. This is a beautiful book, full of heart and wisdom. It encompasses life in America in general, beholding an allure and hypocrisy of our society.
338 pp. Delta Trade Paperback. [Read/
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