Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Review: Touch and Go
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
Publisher: Unbridled Books
Be prepared to see the world through the eyes of a blind man. Touch and Go, by debut novelist Thad Nodine, is a multi-cultural, non-traditional masterpiece that will worm its way into every reader's heart.
Kevin, an ex-addict who was blinded in a freak accident as a child, narrates the journey he makes across country with his quirky sponsor family - Isa, Patrick, and their two foster kids Devon and Ray - to deliver a handmade casket to Isa's dying father in Florida. As you would expect, there is drama and conflict - Isa's attempts to mask her depression with her new relationship with God, the sneaky "get rich quick" schemes Patrick concocts from state to state that threaten to put all of them in jeopardy, and Devon and Ray, while generally on their best behavior, both have their moments. Kevin is not without his own issues as well, trying to outrun his past drug addiction and obsession with Isa while struggling to act as independently as possible in this new, foreign world he is finding himself in.
Touch and Go is more than just mere words on a page. For one thing, it's a tactile story, projecting more than just images onto the reader (which are fed to Kevin through Ray, whom he leans on for visual references of their surroundings). By using Kevin as his narrator, Nodine sets the stage for a true "3-D" experience. Kevin, who sees neither light nor dark, describes things in a way that only he can - through his sense of touch and the way he uses and catalogues sound. Those things that we take for granted every day are the very things that help him to make sense of his world.
I loved the way Kevin described the full out knees-to-chin run down the hill of a golf course during one of their many stops along the way to Florida. Unable to use sight as a guide, he lets himself go in the hopes of tricking his mind into remembering the color green, and shares the childlike joy and thrill of it all. Shortly after that experience, in a fierce display of independence, he attempts to locate a snack shop on his own in an area he has never been in before. After mistaking the sound of a garbage can on the ground as the door to the storefront, Kevin shares the sheer panic and fear that threaten to encompass him as he accepts the fact that he is lost. In another, similarly devastating moment, Kevin describes the chaos and confusion of Hurricane Katrina as it threatens to overtake the house he and his family find themselves in - the floors trembling, the window glass shaking and shrieking, the walls weeping with water. All of this, so perfectly told through the unseeing eyes of our narrator.
Touch and Go is also a story of survival, of breaking bad habits, and of becoming comfortable in one's own skin. As Kevin and the gang make the trip from Burbank to Isa's father's house, they are forced - each in their own way - to exorcise their demons. Isa learns to properly grieve for her daughter; Ray opens up and shares a private, personal, and shameful memory of his mother; Devon learns to let go of the resentful feelings he harbors for his absentee father; Patrick momentarily shows compassion for strangers during Katrina and performs a completely selfless act; and Kevin finally finds the confidence to face the world without aid of his dark glasses and cowboy hat.
A wonderfully engaging, well paced, amazing effort from a first time novelist.