Monday, April 14, 2014

Outside In

Let's start the week with a book review, shall we?

Outside In - Doug Cooper
Outside In
From Memorial Day until the student workers and tourists leave in the fall, the island community of Put-in-Bay, Ohio, thrives on alcohol, drugs, sexual experimentation, and any other means of forgetting responsibilities. To Brad Shepherd—recently forced out of his job as a junior high math teacher after the overdose death of a student—it’s exactly the kind of place he’s looking for.

Allured by the comfort and acceptance of the hedonistic atmosphere, Brad trades his academic responsibilities and sense of obligation for a bouncer’s flashlight and a pursuit of the endless summer. With Cinch Stevens, his new best friend and local drug dealer, at his side, Brad becomes lost in a haze of excess and instant gratification filled with romantic conquests, late-night excursions to special island hideaways, and a growing drug habit. Not even the hope from a blossoming relationship with Astrid, a bold and radiant Norwegian waitress, nor the mentoring from a mysterious mandolin player named Caldwell is enough to pull him out of his downward spiral. But as Labor Day approaches, the grim reality of his empty quest consumes him. With nowhere left to run or hide, Brad must accept that identity cannot be found or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go.

A look at one man's belated coming of age that's equally funny, earnest, romantic, and lamenting, Doug Cooper’s debut novel explores the modern search for responsibility and identity, showing through the eyes of Brad Shepherd how sometimes, we can only come to understand who we truly are by becoming the person we’re not.

I'll be honest, I don't know where the funny portions of this book come in. Maybe because I was reading while exhausted I missed them, but I found the book more sad than anything else. We have Brad, a junior high math teacher who experiences the death of a student in his classroom, who basically loses it. And really, picking up all of your worldly belongings, tossing responsibility out the window and moving to a location where the only things to do in your time is to get drunk and do drugs, is what I would consider losing it. While interesting, and Brad is kind of a different character, I really had no idea where the story was going. The writing is good, it just felt like as a reader, I was as aimless as Brad. 

His adventures in Put-In-Bay, Ohio are what you would expect for a play like Key West, also referenced. I don't envision Ohio as being this hub of night life, and maybe Ohio gets a bum wrap. Maybe we should all go to Ohio and see what we're clearly missing. 

But he spends an entire summer basically wasting his life away under the guise of who knows what, finding himself? Finding a larger meaning? I don't know even, but as fall approaches he realizes the summer, albeit fun and adventurous, doesn't wholly provide what he was looking for. It still feels like he never really finds what he was looking for. Maybe that was intentional, maybe it wasn't thought out enough and just wasn't included, I'm not sure. Basically, I'm a little surprised at how normal the ending is. And maybe I'm just really naive, but I'm pretty sure if a person did that amount of drugs and alcohol in a summer, you'd walk away as an addict. I don't know if a person can really do that much and just... return to life without a souvenir drug habit. But... it's fiction. He could be a fairy princess if he wanted to. 

This is a debut, so given that, I'm interested to see what Doug Cooper has up his sleeve for the next book. Definitely has a good writing voice that makes it almost melodic to read, and that will get you through anything. It's available for Kindle right now for less than $7, so an interesting read if you're on a budget!


Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. Really appreciate you taking the time to read and blog about Outside In. The stuff you raised questions on like setting (, plot (, and characters ( was done intentionally and explained in my Deeper Look blog series if anyone is interested in reading more on why I made the choices I did.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being on the tour!