Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Review: 'Shorting California' by Chris D. Dodson

California author Chris D. Dodson has published three novels – THE IRRESISTIBLE MUSE OF JACK KIDD, THE ORANGE CURTAIN, and now SHORTING CALIFORNIA. His style is engaging and rather than a list if his qualifications for his chosen field he states on his site - ‘Background - Is it about pedigrees archived on paper, framed in cheesy dime-store fixtures, hung on a wall, accolades for the ages? Or is it simply about things learned, journeys peppered with sporadic, unplanned sojourns of enlightenment? Bottom line, always a bottom line, my background as a writer is no different from your background: your first kiss; your first heartbreak; your first gaze out into the stars, wondering just what is this all about. The list goes on…Universal maturation, forever recycling the human experience.’ That, fellow readers, is the manner in which this talented young man lives, writes, and shares. He becomes an instant friend.

This warm manner of sharing is present in the manner in which he develops his characters as we discover form the opening page – ‘Sean Kirkpatrick sat at his home desk that morning, peering at his iPad and listening to what sounded like war drums off in the distance . . . rapid, pounding beats, oompha, oompha, oompha, coming from subwoofers, he guessed, playing ranchero or Banda tunes, he concluded. The music, an irritant, although Sean would never admit it, seemed close today, or maybe it was just the wind. There is a hell of a blow of Santa Anas this morning, he thought, carrying the noise from over there . . . from inside the neighboring barrio. Sean blocked his tribal inkling, a failure toward xenophobia, he reminded himself—his white privilege. Mid November and the cold twist of air blew from so many directions that after a few hours of that dusty s**t in one’s face and eyes, one could only hope for a deluge. Rudiments of earth: dirt, fecal matter, land urchins, pestilence and disease, and God knows what else, cast a brownish haze against the otherwise smoggy horizon of the San Gabriel Valley. And Sean lived in one of the higher-end townhome villages in the Valley, a recently built complex, fully equipped with clean-and-green solar panels, on-demand-water heaters, water-saving toilets, and an LED light bulb in every socket. On Sean’s desk sat a steaming bowl of steel-cut Irish oats and a hot cup of organic green tea. Logged into his iPad was the Los Angeles Times editorial page. While savoring the wholesome taste and texture of warm oats in his mouth, he scrolled through the op-ed pieces, laughing quietly at the brilliant political commentary. Twenty-seven years old, medium height and slender, with thick, brownish hair and a well-groomed mustache and beard, Sean sat comfortably blasé in his much-treasured Sierra Club twill shirt. The garment included the latest in renewable material: hemp, wool, cotton, not to mention recycled plastic bottles transformed into soft and comfy Eco Spun fiber.’ Now we know Sean and the story can flow, as is distilled in the synopsis.

‘A cold, dry Santa Ana wind blew that day; news headlines suggested that the great financial meltdown and subsequent recession were getting worse; racial strife with political activists on both sides was becoming violent---a nation on the brink with California at its epicenter. Enter Sean Kirkpatrick, a dedicated social worker for the county of Los Angeles who has only one ambition: to serve the downtrodden of the world. But it's not until Sean's fiancée, Megan O'Riley, turns his marital plans upside down, causing a butterfly effect of events in Sean's life, prodding him toward a path of denial and realization. With a newfound mix of friends and lovers, enemies and geopolitical players, Sean Kirkpatrick, noble public servant, finds himself ensnared within a labyrinth of social uprising as well as the upper echelons of wealth and treacherous power. A gripping, coming-of-age story that pits man against the world---revealing, with satirical flare, the clandestine world we all live in. The perfect chemistry of political thriller and comedic romance.’

And that is precisely what happens in this excellent book, but the storyline (fine and well developed though it is) is only a particle of the pleasure of reading Chris’ prose. Very NOW, full of suspense and intrigue but balanced with a sizeable dollop of humor (though dark at times), Chris makes us look at TODAY as it is and underlying the story is a lot of truth that is so very necessary to confront. He just makes that task entertaining – and that is the gift of a fine novelist. Grady Harp, June 18

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.