bookshelves: buddy-read, contemporary, mental-illness, history, abuse, writing, literary, addiction
Recommended for: everybody.
DISCLOSURE: I received a physical copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own.
It was my own personal theory that most lifetimes could be summed up by ten to twenty moments, meaningful snippets ranging from a handful of seconds to a few spins around the clock face that contained both the best and worst of one’s character and experiences. Like a home movie on Super 8 film, twenty impactful moments that told the story of a life. Often those moments were first glances, tearful goodbyes, fortunate turns, unfortunate accidents, promises kept, promises broken, triumphs, failures, and regrets. In my case, it took only thirteen moments from my forty-three years to convey an insightful understanding of my life, twelve recollections that I told proudly and one that always stung a bit in the telling. As a writer and someone who examined the human experience for a paycheck, I knew that the best stories were the ones that stung a little bit in the telling; the ones that most people didn’t volunteer to friends or family; the ones they kept locked deep within themselves.
The Weight of a Moment, Michael Bowe’s sophomoric effort, beautifully explored the various nuances of small-town, old-school America, and dutifully contrasted it with present day, corporate America. The juxtaposition was fascinating. My appetite for Bowe’s colliding worlds was insatiable.
His novel, which was self-published, was voted one of ten best Indie books of 2019 by Shelf Unbound Magazine, was made exponentially more astonishing by the author’s attention to detail, clear understanding of the English language, character development, and fully realized recurring themes.
It mostly revolved around protagonist Nick Starling and Tom Corbett, albeit not entirely. In fact,
Bowe seemed to effortlessly incorporate a handful of colorful characters, all of which helped populate small-town Shelbyville, Pennsylvania, including former basketball prodigy, Robbie Reynolds; police chief Walt Garrison; hardware store proprietor, Chet Riley; or, lest we forget, the incorrigible Milt Wallace, perpetually arriving at Shelbyville’s go-to haunt, The Bashful Rooster, in “yellow rubber raincoat and yellow rubber hat,” even in the dead of summer. One could even argue that The Rooster was a character. I wouldn’t go that far, but Bowe seamlessly transported me there, complete with all the tones, vibes, and moods typically found 1950’s style diners, some of which still exist today. It felt very down-to-earth. These vibrant characters actually greeted one another. They knew them on a first name basis. They cared about each other’s physical and mental well-being. The scenes that took place there reminded me of why I gravitate so much towards similar restaurants, and how much I miss them. They were also some of my favorite scenes of the novel.
I cannot put into words exactly how compelling the narratives of Tom and Nick were. The stunning prose kept me turning pages, eager to know what would transpire next, not just regarding plot, but to the former as well. Every word mattered; nothing was wasted. Everything served a purpose, whether to move the story forward, add nuances to the characters and locations, or as a means of developing themes. Those qualities alone make a writer great. The Weight of a Moment was hard to put down. Even when I wasn’t reading, my mind lingered in Bowe’s equally engrossing worlds.
My neck bent skyward, the billions of bright, twinkling stars amazed me with their simple brilliance and colossal count. For the first time in my life, I was more than aware that our small planet was in the midst of an endless universe. I felt small and insignificant but also part of something that greatly exceeded my own understanding. Dumbfounded by my ignorance, I recognized that the stars had always been there, shining as they did– it was me who never really noticed.
Initially brought together through a mutual understanding of deep shame and regret (one of which was made public and was deplorable,) Tom and Nick soon became friends, and it was moving to watch their friendship blossom. I couldn’t get enough. One of the reasons I found it as captivating as I did stemmed from them being so different, while sharing similarities, too. Bowe used those qualities, in part, to painstakingly develop said recurring theme. The differences weren’t subtle, but they weren’t didactic, either. At the time, I didn’t give them much thought. I was simply enrapt in the story.
During their time together, Nick and Tom learned some important things about themselves, and those around them. For instance, art entrepreneur AJ Gaines, whom I quickly admired and adored; Mr. Sinclair, who was, in many ways, a mentor to young and impressionable Nick Sterling; Shannon Corbett, the pseudo representative of what role reversal might resemble in modern feminism. Gosh, how I loathed her…with a passion. She was just awful; Marie and even the mysterious Digby helped diversify, populate, and develop the author’s themes and characters. Many other city/townsfolk did as well. It was incredibly well-executed and thought-out. Tom’s personal arc was quite remarkable, overall.
I cannot say much more, for obvious reasons. I will say this, though: the time spent behind the pages was utterly engrossing. And to behold their everyday interactions, expectations, trials and tribulations, in addition to their ambitions and insecurities, particularly as the mysteries unfolded and the plot was more clear—those experiences were divine.
Opening in the fall of 2012, the novel went back decades, only to gradually progress back to the present (starting from Nick’s POV,) which was very intense. That was fine and dandy. I had no issues there. Between the beginning and end, though, were some significant discrepancies. Now, I wouldn’t say I was left with more questions than answers, but those discrepancies were pretty baffling. Weeks later, I’m still baffled.
For example, from the start, (view spoiler)
Is it possible to dream a dream so vividly, wish for it so hopefully, and want it so badly that your dream actually finds you? Ten days out of State College that was exactly what happened to me. Early one morning, I received a call from someone in the newsroom of The Philadelphia Post and, several days later, I found myself sitting in the chaotic office of Stewart Brady, a hardcore newspaper editor who learned the business in the 1950’s when huge mechanical presses still rolled in the basement of the building. Having just crossed his sixtieth birthday, Stewart was an anachronism, a crusty, old newspaperman who was fighting the passage of time, the advancement of technology, the breaking of long-standing traditions, and the evolution of journalism with every indignant, nicotine-laced breath he took.
Bowe also implemented a great sense of mystery and intrigue surrounding Tom, his mother, Marie, and his “not so warm and welcoming” father, Samuel, whom I loathed exponentially more than Shannon. I hardly thought that possible. The mystifying elements weren’t what I’d call your classic or typical mystery, but they weren’t too far removed, either. Along the way, many clues were given, along with sound logic, which could either affirm or disprove the questions at stake. The resolution itself was both shocking and not terribly surprising, given the circumstances, and I would have been satisfied either way. With something that dark, I usually wouldn’t reaction that way, yet somehow Bowe made it work, and with panache.
Which brings me to my next point. Tom’s (view spoiler)
He was a kind and gentle person, one you felt you could trust after sharing a diner booth for just fifteen minutes. Sitting before me, he had a sad, tormented look in his eyes, like someone who’d endured a trying ordeal, a look I saw in the mirror every morning.
The samples of Bowe’s prose, as shown here, were very numerous throughout. There was at least one magnificent or jaw-dropping sentence and/or paragraph on every page. A bare minimum of one, faithful readers. I’d gladly give The Weight of a Moment all the stars possible if judged by prose alone. But I can’t. Rating and reviewing any book should involve the entire product. Despite believing that it would easily be one of my favorite books of the year, possibly one of the best ever, I’d be remiss and dishonest if I said I regretting reading it, because I don’t. For the writing alone, it’s worth it. I recommend it, regardless.
I haven’t written off the author, either. Not by a long shot. His talent is surely one to look out for. Look, no book is perfect and I wasn’t expecting that. Perfection is overrated. I’ll take a flawed over an immaculate one any day. In fact, I’m still curious about Bowe’s debut novel, Skyscraper of a Man.