Ken McAlpine's new novel is a roller coaster ride through the mind and soul of the main character Pogue Whithouse, who as many people over age 60 takes a physical, emotional and psychological foray with the ghosts of relationships past. As the subtitle, A Journey of Love, Hope and Second Chances betrays, the story drags readers to many memories and even more locales throughout the United States. Pogue grapples in a bid for peace, or at least fulfillment, in the balance of his life. He says:
I want to see my country, but I’m afraid to take my eyes off the road. My fellow Americans stomp on their accelerators as if pursued by the devil himself. From the corner of my eye, I catch snatches of Steinbeck’s central valley—hypnotic irrigated fields,grassland and dun-colored hills, their dusty look mirroring the pasty gumminess in my mouth.
Pogue seeks redemption, mainly about the death of his older brother Sean. The quest forces him to face the lies and secrets behind his relationships with most of the people he knew.
“Life is a tug of war between how we would like things to be and how they are,” Pogue says.
The eerily realistic plot and dialogue only attests to the skills of a writer whose earlier works were largely nonfiction. McAlpine is a three-time winner of the Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, and author of Islands Apart: A Year on the Edge of Civilization and Off Season: Discovering America on Winter's Shore, a 2004 Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers selection. Together We Jump and Fog, a novel also published through iUniverse last year, signal his talent for truth in fiction.
Now, another bit of truth – at one point I wanted to give up the read. I thought the deeply personal nature of the experience and the book's length were a fault, but McAlpine's use of language and plot made every page turn. The narrative is poetic at turns, and the descriptions and reflections spur thoughts like the kind of conversations that begin in evenings and end at dawn.
Sea turtles' life struggles are his metaphor:
In my favorite dream, I swim easily in green waters just below the surface so that the sky ripples overhead, the white clouds like bedsheets in the wind. I am underwater, but the river still sings on the surface, softer dreamier, more distant, yet infinitely more comforting. I sense something timeless, beyond mankind's stumblings, passed to me in a whisper I cannot grasp, but it soothes me nonetheless. I am gripped by something that swings on the very hinges of the earth, something so large it erases any urge to conquer, to compete, to dominate, to prove, to possess, to hate, to question.
The book mentions them at several junctures. Most die soon after they are born, yet those who survive beat the odds in a hostile world because of endurance. The words and images are so real and human that readers will pause at many points to ask whether the book is a memoir. I did, more than a dozen times, but discovered, Together We Jump as a call to inspiration.