A Walking Shadow
by Gary Bolick
Unsolicited Press

"He called the desert the perfect place for him because so little moved. Just one big photograph, so it provided the illusion that his life was back to normal."

There is an exceptionally fine line between intense introspection and prolonged navel-gazing. That line is a tightrope author Bolick walks precariously in this tale of one man’s unyielding search for enlightenment. Bolick’s protagonist desperately wants to come to grips with personal answers to profound questions such as why are we here, what does consciousness really mean, and can we ever truly understand one another or, for that matter, ourselves. The author encases these soul-searching queries in a story that dispenses potential answers much like a time-release capsule—a few now, a bit later, and eventually perhaps enough to ward off congenital melancholia. However, these intermittent answers raise additional questions. Does the patient stand a chance of actually being cured or merely treated? Should his doctor heed the proverb, “Physician, heal thyself”?

Jonas is a survivor of a near-death experience. He walks away unharmed from an automobile accident that by all rights should have turned him into roadkill. This experience, among others, leads him to dissolve his marriage, sell his business, and buy a high-rise condo in Las Vegas where he spends half of each year. The other half he spends at an abandoned line shack in the desert. There, he communes with the starkest of nature when he’s not attending psychiatric sessions with his therapist, Lowenstein—a man with his own cross to bear. It is during these sessions, generally under hypnosis, where Jonas’s past unwinds as he seeks a path for his future. We learn of emotional indignities suffered at the hands of his parents and siblings. We share his trauma at being jilted by the first love of his life. Subsequent relationships with wives and lovers are detailed, dissected, and discussed. Plus, we are made privy to the harrowing arrival at his desert retreat of a scarred and damaged individual who just might provide the impetus Jonas needs to find the answers to his cosmic questions.

Philosophy, psychiatry, and literary allusion share equal space with plot development in this novel. Jonas is constantly seeing his life, both past and present, unfold before him as if he’s watching it all from the back row of a theatre. Is what he sees real or is it only his particular perception? The unstated yet symbolic connection to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” is unmistakable. The theories of Freud, Jung, and Skinner make appropriate appearances as does William Shakespeare’s metaphor “Life’s but a walking shadow…” Bolick even takes it a step farther than the Bard of Avon. He lets Jonas’s shadow separate itself, walk, talk, and even kibitz.

There is a welcome level of humor throughout this tale. The author does a good job of having Jonas explore serious issues without taking himself too seriously. The dialogue, both internal and with other characters, is sharp, substantive, and, most importantly, feels as if it would actually come from the individual being portrayed. While Bolick’s plot structure jumps about in time and occasionally impedes comprehension, its unpredictable nature is definitely intriguing. The quality of writing overall is first-rate, with numerous memorable passages such as, “She, this woman, surpassed any sense or idea of beautiful, she was heroic, she was a gut-punch back at the desert, into the solar plexus of indifference.” As stated initially, universal questions of the nature of existence are definitely being examined in this book, but a good story is also being told, and that’s often what makes novels worth the time we spend with them.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home