Nancy Twist Chattanooga, TN (April 25, 2012)
“When I think of my brother, Randall, I imagine Atticus Finch at around seventeen—a young man who carries himself like a benevolent prince—clear eyed, stands tall and proud, no outsized ego.” In 33 words, author Don Hutcheson has painted a compelling picture of one of the main characters of this story by
Will (a writer) is the epitome of “outsized ego”—he acts aloof, curses like a sailor, is hardhearted toward associates, staff, and members of his own family. He is noticeably preoccupied with sex.
We quickly discover that Randall’s younger brother, Will Stallworth, the protagonist of the novel, has definitely not followed in his older brother’s “benevolent” footsteps. Far from it! While he is highly creative like Randall (an artist), Will (a writer) is the epitome of “outsized ego”—he acts aloof, curses like a sailor, is hardhearted toward associates, staff, and members of his own family. He is noticeably preoccupied with sex.
The year is 1984. Will has been recruited by McDonald & Campbell, the top ad agency in Atlanta, to take over their creative department from soon-to-be retiring co-founder, Gregory Campbell. Will is also chosen to lead the pitch for a $100 million account that would rescue the agency from its first financial crisis in its 25-year history. This is a herculean task because McDonald & Campbell is a prohibitive underdog.
Will is no newcomer to pressure. Working at the prestigious Hal Riney agency in San Francisco, he quickly rose to the top echelon of advertising superstars in a few short years. Recognition, money and beautiful women followed. However, returning to his hometown, Atlanta, after an eight-year hiatus brings new challenges. He must contend with an aging, domineering father, with nightmares of his long-dead beloved brother, with panic attacks that spring up from nowhere and erode his confidence, and with a conniving coworker who sets out to sabotage his career.
Hutcheson weaves half a dozen subplots and a dozen disparate characters into a story that moves quickly and rivets your attention. It’s interesting to watch how individual characters shed light on the theme of the novel: Only you yourself can shape your destiny. Family, friends, schools, organizations—none of these can tell you who to be or how to live your life. If you fail to honor your own deep intention and purpose, you are likely to take your place at the back of a line of countless lemmings leading lives of mindless conformity and waiting to leap over the cliff to doom. Or, to be bored senseless and lead your own version of “a life of quiet desperation.”
Hutcheson weaves half a dozen subplots and a dozen disparate characters into a story that moves quickly and rivets your attention.
If the first half of the novel is about showing the reader Will’s “survival” side, replete with vivid nightmares, steamy sex and bitter altercations with family and staff members, the second half takes us on a journey deep into Will’s awakening. A series of events, including his estranged father’s death, force Will to stop and pay attention to the forces that—unbeknownst to him—have been running his life since the moment he was born. For the first time in 30 years he begins to listen to his sister, Maggie, and her insights about the forces, good and bad, that have shaped each of them.
A visit to his grandparents’ farm provides the missing link in Will’s understanding of why he and the rest of the Stallworth men seem to be constantly in conflict with themselves, their families and their environments. Thanks to his father’s mother, Gertrude, Will is able to piece together the facts and myths of his and his siblings’ lives. Armed with new insight and fueled by newfound courage, Will Stallworth finally breaks free of “the sins of the fathers.” At the 11th hour he steps into his own life on his own terms—steps finally and forever out of fear.