Saturday, March 20, 2021

Review: If or When I Call

If or When I Call If or When I Call by Will Johnson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have long been a fan of novels set in rural places when they capture the people and places very well - think John Irving, Richard Russo, David Joy, Kent Haruf - and I think Will Johnson is an author who should join those ranks. Many will know him as a musician from Monsters of Folk to Centro-matic. I had some familiarity with groups adjacent to these two (Bright Eyes, She & Him) so I slid into the playlists of his bands while reading this book, a natural fit.

Knowing Will Johnson is a musician will not be a surprise for anyone reading this book - the rotating points of view of a handful of characters sometimes drifts into an inner narrative that feels more like verse. This is used judiciously and adds texture to the story. Some of the characters also stop and notice a song on the radio in the car or other places, and so I felt compelled to stop and also listen to the song as the reader. (Experience recommended.)

At times in the beginning, I felt there was too much detail about what is on the shelves at the gas station, what the characters are wearing, etc. I felt a bit bogged down. But I think the author wants you to slow down, to understand the pace of a town that might have had some industry at one point, but no longer has much to offer. And then to ask the question of what do people do all day when this is their reality? There are characters linked together by a child and nothing else, but since the town is small, still end up in the same circles. The people they used to drink or do drugs with are still there as well, which isn't always helpful.

And then suddenly, I was in this place where I knew the characters, I understood their emotions, and I was crying while Melinda eats chicken in a gas station. I felt the panic of a teenager left alone to deal with his father's illness which shows up without warning. There are family members who do the wrong thing and strangers who do the right thing, and a very satisfying ending.

I received a copy of this book in advance from the publicist, and actually am acquainted with the editor, and this is my honest review. The book came out March 15, 2021.

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