By Antoine Wilson
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780547875125, September 2012, 304pp.)
The Short of It:
Oppen Porter is probably one of my favorite protagonists since Owen Meany. In fact, you could say he’s a cross between Owen Meany and Forrest Gump. Witty, funny, brutally honest yet likable.
The Rest of It:
What a wonderful book. Where do I even start? You know it’s good when I can’t even formulate my thoughts.
After a mysterious accident, Oppen finds himself in a Madera hospital, in traction and on the verge of dying. Well, to HIM, the end is near which is why he is recording a letter to his unborn son, Juan George. The events of his 28-years are unremarkable in one sense, and spectacular in another. At 6’6″, he is a grown man and intelligent in his own way, but his simple curiosity allows him to befriend all sorts of strange characters. Riding everywhere on his bicycle, with a pair of binoculars around his neck, Oppen exists by asking the questions that no one else wants to ask. He’s blunt, far from innocent yet gullible, but even when people set out to take advantage of him, his goodness seems to rub off on them just a tiny bit. Enough to make you wonder if there is good in everyone.
From his hospital bed, Oppen tells his story.
When his father dies at home, Oppen takes it upon himself to fulfill his father’s wish, which is to be buried at home in his own backyard. This seems perfectly logical. Why would anyone have a problem with it? When the authorities catch wind of it, the body is exhumed and buried to code. Frustrated that he is unable to do the one thing his father requested, he suddenly finds himself living with his Aunt Liz in Panorama City, California. If you’ve ever visited the San Fernando Valley, you know how dry and boring Panorama City can be. It’s “strip mall” city, crowded, and eternally stuck in the 70′s (if you ask me).
Aunt Liz believes that what Oppen needs is a job to fix him right up, so she gets him a job at a local fast food joint. There, he is forced to interact and consider, those around him. Both customers and coworkers become objects for analysis. Oppen’s desire to please the customer could mean giving them the chosen fry, the one that’s a bit longer than the others just to see if they are paying attention but what it usually does is get him in trouble with whoever he’s trying to analyze at the time. But his fill-in-the-blank personality saves him, in that no one ever thinks he’s trying to be annoying on purpose; quite the opposite actually.
As Oppen moves through life in Panorama City, his time there becomes an Odyssey which lasts 40 days and 40 nights. He finds Christ through the Lighthouse Christian Fellowship, learns about fleeting youth from his freethinking friend, Paul Renfro and although many attempt to take advantage of him, in the end, Oppen seems to always come out on top.
I don’t run, because when you run people chase you. People and animals. Always better to extend your stride.
This is a charming read in many ways but what I found most charming, was Oppen himself and yes I’ll admit it, even Panorama City was a lot more interesting with Oppen in it. His ability to take it all in, distill whatever it is right down to its essence, and then regurgitate it back up for his unborn son’s benefit… priceless. To me, this book reminded me so, so much of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is a book that I hold dear. So for me to even compare this one to Meany means that this one is pretty special.
I wanted to include some gems from the book but there are far too many to mention. I suggest you pick-up a copy and just read it for yourself. I, for one will be reading Wilson’s other book, The Interloper as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Audio Note: I listened to a portion of this on audio and it was just as fabulous on audio.
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