Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A well-punctuated road-trip

It's. Nice. Outside. by Jim Kokoris


John Nichols isn't doing very well. He's 50-something, divorced and unhappy with his job, so with his two daughters no longer at home, his whole life surrounds his 19-year-old autistic and mentally disabled son, Ethan. What's more, as much as John loves his son, it's getting harder to handle him. Aside from that, John's feeling like the life he dreamed of having may slip away forever, unless he does something about it soon. Now he's driving with Ethan from Illinois to his daughter Karen's wedding in South Carolina, with a secret plan that will change everything.

Excuse me for playing the "literary comparison" game, but I'm surprised that no one else has called this something like "Mark Haddon meets Fanny Flagg" by now. Actually, that's not far from being accurate, to tell the truth. Of course, the Haddon comparison comes with any book that has even one character with any kind of autism spectrum syndrome, but there's no avoiding that. The Fanny Flagg part is another thing altogether, and what I mean by this is the type of wit and humor she brings to her writing, particularly when the subject matter could have been very heavy. With this book, Kokoris combines exactly these two elements - a serious subject, and a heavy dose of humor.

Sure, this is nothing new, but what makes this novel special is how Kokoris leads us through the story with varying levels of frustration and satisfaction. Of course, some of this comes from Ethan, and his unconventional behavior. Ethan can be wholly unpredictable, with days when he's so difficult that you can't believe anyone can figure out how to cope with him. On the other hand, there are those things that always evoke a positive reaction from Ethan; and in that, he's also predictable. Kokoris uses this to parallel the complexities of all the relationships in this family, some of which are so convoluted, they make Ethan seem almost normal at times. At the same time, any one or combination of these characters can be ultimately straightforward.

Isn't that what life really is like? Basic human behavior and routine interactions, punctuated with those anomalous events that - even temporarily - rock our world and sometimes cause us to react atypically, despite ourselves. This is what makes this book into an amazing delight of a story. It is real, it is honest, and every one of the characters is believable, because we've met them all before, or see something of them in ourselves. How often do we get to read books like this that make us laugh out loud, and then make us nod in total recognition, and even bring a tear to our eyes? Not that often, I can assure you.

I should note that when I told a friend about this book, the first thing they said was "this sounds like it would make a good movie." That reaction somewhat surprised me, but after I thought about it, I think they were right. One reason for this is the vehicle Kokoris uses to help the story unfold, that being the elaborate road-trip from Illinois through to South Carolina and then from there to Maine. This would certainly make it a visually interesting movie to watch. Since large amounts of the text here are conversations, both between characters and internal ones, I can easily see this as a screenplay. However, if you want the full impact of this story, you really should read this book. Furthermore, I have to admit that I couldn't find anything that didn't feel right to me (well, there was one character who preferred the White Sox to the Cubs, but hey, no accounting for taste), so I'm wholeheartedly recommending this book and giving it a full five out of five stars.




"It's. Nice. Outside." By Jim Kokoris, release date December 8, 2015 from St. Martin's Press - Minotaur Books is available for pre-order from Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), iTunes, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this book via NetGalley.