[disclaimer: In the pursuit of authenticity and “full disclosure” (and this article in the NY Times), I received a copy of this book from Windblown Media. I won’t be returning this copy, nor will I be re-selling it in anyway. Honestly, it didn’t travel well – but gained some personality, I think, for it’s tattered look on arrival. But that’s just me.]
I’m a fan of Cajun food and west coast cafe’s, and of finding a group of people who can ask questions, find out each other’s junk, and still love and process and grow in what’s important in life. Those things are prominent in BO’S CAFE’, a new novel from John Lynch, Bill Thrall, and Bruce McNicol (copyright 2009). Very much THE SHACK-esque, it doesn’t have the harsh violent undercurrents from the book, nor the dreamlike fantasy feel, and I think that’s what makes this book a bit more approachable, a bit more readable.
Steven is a high-powered Southern California businessman who has climbed the rungs on his intellect, his luck, his take-no-prisoners attitude, and an anger and fear that he has spent years avoiding, even as he’s oblivious to the fact that all this is destroying his sense of self and his relationships with his wife and daughter. At the end of his rope, looking for answers to questions he doesn’t even really know he’s asking, he finds himself in the parking lot of an old neighborhood diner – leading to an encounter with Andy and a group of friends hanging out at Bo’s Cafe’ on the pier.
That’s it. That’s the scene – pretty straightforward. There’s a great car (the red Buick on the cover), and there’s the description of food that needed to be drawn out just a little more to fully sense/taste. But honestly, that’s all background and atmosphere to the conversations that occur in these welcoming aromatic laughter-filled spaces.
“Down in that city, millions of people of people are hiding stuff, presenting only what they think they can control. They carry around guilt or anger or bottled-up hurt and don’t have any idea where to put it. It eats them up at night. It sits in the passenger seat on long drives alone. It goes with them on vacation. It follows them into church and drowns out the message.” (Andy, p. 39)
“Here’s something. Maybe it’ll help answer your question. Andy was the first dude I ever met who had more confidence in the grace of God than in the power of the crap I was dragging around.” (Carlos, p. 66)
“Because, Steven, you’ve been arrogant enough to think you know what the issues are and how to solve them. You’ve been blaming everyone around you. And they can’t take it anymore. They’re so devastated by you that they’re locking you out…. Other than that, everything’s just fine.” (Andy, p. 47)
For the most part, I’ve dog-eared all kinds of conversational nuggets like that, and it doesn’t do justice to the back and forth. And it doesn’t do justice to Steven’s sporadic denials, finding a little self-help nugget to grab onto before thinking, “well, that’s it, I’ve got it, now I can just change and make things right”. And while there’s a contrived feeling to the conversations, one of the drawbacks I think of putting any of this into a textual literary context, I kept asking myself if I’m feeling the prose is “contrived” because I want it to feel contrived? Because I want to control conversation a bit more, like Steven? Because I think I’ve got those same things under control and want to work towards the happy ending that I know is there for me, too? Because I want to take the shortcuts again and rely on being able to figure it out?
Steven’s wife has to deal with all this as well, and his new friends at the cafe’ need to deal with Steven even as he’s learning to deal with them. In large part, these conversations form the connections and reconnections in all these broken and rejuvenating relationships. The process becomes the glue, the web, the bedding of the new life Steven needs to find for himself. And ultimately, it’s the space for real Grace to form, to transform, to show up and to show off.
For me, this book has been like a good cup of coffee. I’ve done that before, reviewing a book and thinking of it in context of coffee and coffeeshops and tables and conversations. While I’m not a fan of coffee with cajun cooking, I will say that these are the kinds of chats that bring about change, and the aromas of friendship and good food go far in giving these changes a chance to stick and to make a real difference in our lives.