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Book Review: I Was So Much Older Then by Ed Davis
By Joy Lackey
I literally could not put down I Was So Much Older Then, a novel by Ed Davis, a native son of West Virginia, graduate of Concord College and West Virginia University, teacher of writing, literature and humanities and all-around great writer. The cover describes it as a “coming of age” novel — and it is — but it is so much more.
Even as a child, the protagonist Danny Cahill is a sweet “old soul” who never gives up hope when all around him is bleak and unpromising. The novel took me through layers of philosophy and psychology that resonated long after the reading. It’s one of those books you underline and never sell or trade, but keep for future reference when your own life needs advice.
Of many memorable characters, one of the most complex is Danny’s mother, Anne, who falls apart bit by bit after Danny’s father abandons the family. Her mental and spiritual decline is shown by her wearing nothing but a slip most of the time (I pictured it as a red slip). Deep into the book, the boy sees her wearing “the face she wore in the kitchen when she stayed up all night in the dark, a face that no longer showed hurt because it was no longer alive.” Danny never completely figures her out, and I didn’t know for the longest time why or how she ticked, but then it hit me: she didn’t. At all.
Then there’s Danny’s volatile relationship with the enigmatic boy-preacher-turned-cynic Micah Plumly, through which Danny explores the conflicting feelings of sexual orientation during early adulthood.
But young Danny is the book’s focus. In the course of the novel, his rich life experience runs the emotional gamut, from guilt for saving neither the prostitute Claire nor his mother from their personal tragedies to love for his sixth-grade girlfriend Rebecca and, later in life, the beautiful, doomed Willa. Despite set-backs and losses, Danny — bolstered by rock and roll, religion and important friendships — prevails.
Don’t get the idea the book is all gloom and doom. Funny and happy events are scattered throughout the book to balance the sadness. A funeral scene is funny and touching, and the ride to the cemetery is hilarious. And when it seems Danny, with the help of his best friend, will get a full college scholarship, he feels like “the world’s fluffiest buttermilk biscuit and Cantwell College was gonna be his sausage gravy.” I won’t even try to describe the wild celebration with Micah that ensues.
Davis’s writing is like Herman Hesse’s in that Danny talks about music the way Siddhartha spoke of rivers. And there’s page-turning suspense all through the book. I really liked Danny’s resolution, which occurs in a spooky old mansion where he confronts his ghosts, past and present, literal and metaphorical.
There are some books you just can’t scan even if life demands that you put them down at times. You have to appreciate each word and sentence. I Was So Much Older Then is one of those books. You can read a sample chapter and order it on the web at nuvobookstore.com. You may also write or call Disc-Us Books, 2570 Camino San Patricio, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505 (1-888-695-9111). The book retails for $17.95 plus $3.50 for shipping.