Everyone Dies Famous
by Len Joy
BQB Publishing

"'Thank you,' Dancer said, but he didn’t mean it. He knew Landis’s generosity would come with strings attached."

Dancer Stonemason is an old man whose ride on the ups and downs of life has him at another lonely crossroads. After making amends and peace with his oldest son Clayton, his child is suddenly ripped away from him in a truck accident. A year later, Dancer has to relocate back into the heart of Maple Springs, the town where he was a legend from both good times and bad. His other son, a successful car dealership owner, negotiates the sale of his late brother’s house and has Dancer move back in with him. Forcibly moved into the next phase of his life, Dancer tries to keep Clayton’s business alive while adjusting to these new circumstances as best as a stubborn old man can. The memory of his son haunts him repeatedly, no matter his attempts to simply keep moving with the flow of life.

As he prepares to move to his next residence, Dancer’s path crosses with Wayne Mesirow, a National Guardsman who served in Iraq that seems to be on the same destructive path Dancer once walked. Prone to drinking and dealing with the intimate indiscretions of his wife, Wayne has more in common with Dancer than either man would like to admit, and an honest day’s work puts their lives on a common trajectory. As both men find their way on a new path, a natural disaster is poised to tear everything away from them yet again. This tale of small-town America, the cycle of gain and loss, and what it means to start over, again and again, is speckled with the specters of hardship but is ultimately about the wealth of opportunities that exist throughout life if one keeps an eye roaming to find them.

The Middle American experience, whether geographically or on a scale of income class, is as crucial an element of this story as any of its characters or catalysts. Dancer’s dreams of fame, glory, or even just a loving wife and kids are long gone and replaced with those of a man trying his hardest to keep what’s left of his inner circle together despite the consequences of machinations both manmade and natural. The relationships he maintains are often terse, poisoned by decisions he has either made himself or suffered the consequences of. Still, his wants and his perception of the bigger picture leaves his heart open. Dancer seeks reconciliation whether it comes from others or from himself.

The narrative is driven with a theme of not being in control—whether it’s Landis’s real estate deals that put his needs before anybody else’s, the path of the climactic tornado that destroys without feeling or remorse, or even the way that life takes loved ones away long before anyone is ready for such a loss. But there are also the liberating threads of learning how to let go and how owning a loss can be empowering in its own way, and these serve to shine some hope on the story. The relationship between Dancer and Wayne lacks the historical tragedy that he shares with his biological sons but is no less important considering the shared perspectives and opportunities Dancer has to steer Wayne onto a healthier path. This kind of reflective, masculine fiction can be rare, and in the hands of a tough-skinned reader, can create some surprisingly emotional attachment to the characters and story arcs that provide a depth not found in action movies or other male-dominated avenues of culture. Often lonesome and teetering on the edge of tragedy, this story is profound and keeps the reader hooked if for no other reason than to keep its “heroes” company.

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