A review of What Rough Peace by Josh Davis

But Davis is already impatient of mere imitation and almost every page shows flashes of originality. Usually these are statements so condensed that they are poetic explosions and not sober prose.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

What Rough Peace
by Josh Davis,
an e-book available for $5.00 from https://secure.ntbz.com/nbizz/tailtellers/esorder.html

I can think of only one first novel (A Life by Italo Svevo) written by an older author. The typical first novel teems with the faults of youth. Merely glandular urges come dressed with cosmic significance. Events and friends or enemies, however commonplace, assume portentous or heroic proportions. Even where the author is intelligent enough to know better, trite incidents appear as unique events. Style is a must although in a first novel there will be signs of sweat and the style is likely to belong to someone else.

A first novel then is the tax that all serious readers must pay as cheerfully as they can. Unless we pay this tax we miss the base of later work, work that is mature or at least more mature.

What Rough Peace has the faults that I describe but it also has substantial virtues. The faults first: its hero, Charlie Fell, makes too much of obviously very ordinary women, Lola and Eve. They are, not as Davis insists larger than life, but rather the opposite. Drinking and wenching are not simply pleasant, if often dangerous, activities, they are revelations – revelations to which character and specific incident are almost entirely irrelevant. The stylistic debt to Kerouac, apparent even in Davis’s second novel, The Muse and the Mechanism, is here a heavy burden for the reader.

But Davis is already impatient of mere imitation and almost every page shows flashes of originality. Usually these are statements so condensed that they are poetic explosions and not sober prose.

The book’s hero is the aspiring writer, Charlie Fell. He is torn between two young women, Lola and Eve. Eve has the prior claim on him in a way although it consists in an early love affair in which she abandoned him. She will do this again later in the novel. He has in the early stages of the story a greater dependence on Lola, a product of her recent abortion of their unborn child – an unusual but believable situation. But Lola abandons him as completely as Eve and with even more abrupt and brutal finality.

Charlie goes to Baltimore to heal. Here he meets Blake, a dissolute mentor. He returns home, leaves the house of his parents, resumes work at a bookstore and continues to drink and wench. He encounters Eve again but she frustrates by her rejection his effort to initiate a serious relationship with her.

He returns to Baltimore where he discovers Blake’s dead body. After the trauma of this experience he returns home and Lola abruptly returns to him. There is an epilogue but it has more of the manifesto about it than an indication of events and the reader can’t really determine if Lola’s return had any lasting impact.

Davis uses his hero’s name symbolically and meaning grows out of all possible considerations of falling. He uses glass also as a symbol – its fragility, its ubiquity in windows and its pertinence to the sensitive soul. As we know, symbols are heavy things for an author to carry about.

At the last Davis writes one of the many beautiful lines that add so much to this book. “In the end I want everything to smell like springtime and to taste like autumn.”

Once one rejects the need for originality – there are very few original books – one can find much to admire in this early novel.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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