Friday, July 2, 2010

CEMETERY ROAD - Gar Anthony Haywood

FIRST LINE: "What I've always remembered most about my last day in Los Angeles is the smell of burning tar."

Errol "Handy" White has been away from L.A. for almost three decades when his childhood buddy R.J. Burrows, who he promised never to see again, is murdered. The police are writing Burrow's death off as a drug deal gone bad, but Handy has his doubts. Handy also has his ghosts from the event that sent him away from California all those years ago. The more Handy investigates his friend's murder, the more he's convinced that it has nothing to do with a drug deal and everything to do with that failed heist from their youth.

I feel like I'm late to the Gar Anthony Haywood party. CEMETERY ROAD is amazing. It's authors like Haywood who earn writing the title of "art form."

Handy is a character haunted by his past, a past that gnaws at him every day of his life. Haywood depicts that struggle with so much passion that it strikes the core of the reader:
"Because sometimes ignorance is truly bliss, and once it is gone, asking God to have it back is a wasted prayer."
The pages of CEMETERY ROAD are peppered with jarring metaphors that reinforce the darkness and loneliness that defines Handy's life, and by extension we see Burrow's life as well. Since the story is told in first person from Handy's perspective, his helplessness echos through his monologue. There's a very mechanical-ness to his character because he finds solace in making things fit into their proper order and function the way they were made to function. Handy doesn't have this stability in his life so he searches for it elsewhere:
"The only point in bringing such a relic back to life would be the exercise itself. The exercise was what defined me, as it probably always will. I take things apart and put them back together again, all for the sake of learning the answer to a single, unrelenting question:

Why?"
This man trying to make order from chaos transfers this to his daughter. He's beginning to see glimmers of hope for her but it's all tentative because early in adulthood
"What I saw and heard during that time gave me no reason to think she would outlive me. She had taken the sorrow of a motherless child and made a funeral blanket out of it, a shroud she could curl up in to retreat from all the warmth and light of the world."
CEMETERY ROAD is a book full of rich, dynamic, troubled characters the reader can't help but connect with, grab on to, clutch for dear life. So much so that the reader may not know whether he is clutching for the life of the character or the life of himself. These stunning characters are Haywood's first secret ingredient. But he has more tricks up his sleeve, most especially a multi-layered crime story. As the layers of the characters are peeled away, so are the layers of the plot, revealing the complexity of life and the fact that things aren't always what they seem. Ironically, the peeling away of those layers also reveals some very basic elements of human nature. Handy finds those basic elements in the machines that he fixes for a living. In CEMETERY ROAD he faces his greatest challenge and that is finding those elements in himself and repairing the damage.

CEMETERY ROAD will be on my list of favorites for 2010. This is a book that went far beyond entertainment; I closed the back cover a different person than the person who opened the front cover. If you have not read Gar Anthony Haywood, don't just add him to your "to be read" list. Shoot him immediately to the front of the line.

CEMETERY ROAD is available now in hardcover from Seven House Publishers (ISBN: 978-0-7278-6851-0).

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3 comments:

Beth F July 2, 2010 at 7:43 AM  

Oh no! How can I resist an endorsement like that? Now I have to figure out how I'm going to squeeze yet another new author onto my list.

Jenn's Bookshelves July 2, 2010 at 8:59 AM  

I'm with Candace! Ahhh! Another author to add to my list. All kidding aside, thank you for all your wonderful recommendations! You haven't steered me wrong yet.

Naomi Johnson July 12, 2010 at 11:19 PM  

Adding this to the list. Thanks!

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