‘Wayne’s features were compressed toward the middle of his face, folding into one another, so he looked like a piece of fruit that had begun to rot.’
I love being totally immersed in a book. The feeling of being swept up in a story. The range of emotions a quality writer can create simply by putting words onto a page. The change of head from the stresses of your own life to those of others. There’s little better if you ask me.
So, many thanks George Pelecanos for taking me out of my skin for the last few days. I’m extremely grateful for that.
The Way Home (US) is a cracking novel. It opens with the tale of Chris Flynn’s teenage years. He’s not gifted enough to excel in school or to enjoy the experience and his raging hormones and youthful anger are quick to take control of him. He likes to fight - it’s something he does well. He likes a drink and a smoke and enjoys driving. When all these things come together in one explosive evening, he finally stretches things too far and ends up in a prison for young offenders.
Chris’s father isn’t too impressed by his son’s exploits. Truth is, he’s hurt by the direction Chris has chosen and can’t see his boy as anything other than a disappointment and can’t understand how things turned out the way they did. If he was a little wiser, he might see that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree and Chris, in so many ways, is simply following in his father’s footsteps.
Prison life brings challenges to those incarcerated. There’s a heavy slice set between the institutions walls and this section is highly engaging, in spite of the fact that it’s back story. What it does is set the foundations for what is to come and, because they’re expertly handled, the trenches are deep and the structure is all the stronger for that.
Part Three of the novel sees Chris and his prison buddies doing their best to get along on the outside. Chris works for his father laying carpets with his friend, Ben, a warm-hearted young man damaged during his early years. They’re in touch with Ali, who spends his life trying to rehabilitate those who are on the slippery slopes of life and with Lawrence, a difficult character who’s making the best of a bad job and just about managing to keep himself afloat.
When Chris and Ben find a bag of cash under the floorboards of a house they’re working on, they are faced with a difficult decision. They weigh up the benefits with the potential danger of taking the cash and lave the bag where it is. But $50K is a difficult thing to keep secret and it’s not long before word is out and the money is gone.
Enter the owners of the money. They’re not happy bunnies and their own experiences of life behind bars have sucked out anything of their gentler sides. They’re prepared to go to any length to get back what’s theirs.
And so the pace and the compulsion to read on really ratchets up until it’s practically unbearable.
To me, this one’s all about loyalty, whether that’s earned or misplaced. The father-son relationship, stretched to the limit over the years is reshaped as the story unfolds. The bonds between the prison crew of Unit 5 are deeply embedded. The new relationships between the young men and their partners may be at fledging stages, but have gone beyond fooling around to something much more important. And the family ties are ever present for all of them, influencing and moulding their lives for better or for worse. These relationships lay at the books core and at the heart of the decisions of each of the characters. The crime element of the story may be white hot, but it’s the people that hold it over the flame.
The addition of each layer is a wonder. It appears without you noticing it’s being put together. The dialogue is as good as it gets and the strands bind tight when you need them to.
It’s a drama about loyalties, lives and growing up. It’s also food for thought, offering an insight into the role of the prison system for young offenders by shining a beacon on the need for reform.
In short, it’s a bloody good read.
Out of ten? Top marks.