One nice thing about being a book reviewer is the cooperation one can easily establish with the small, independent book publishers, of which there are quite a few. I have found them very easy to deal with and they are only too happy to have their titles read and reviewed. Quattro Books is one publisher that has been very supportive of the Miramichi Reader since it has started up. While it is based in Toronto, some of their titles are authored by east-coast authors, such as Binnie Brennan and Joyce Grant Smith. And while J.P. Rodriguez is from Thunder Bay and now lives in Toronto, his latest novel (or novella, since it is only 146 pages) Escape!!! (2015, Quattro Books) will be of interest to those looking for a little something different. At the time I picked up this book, I was between two ‘down-mood’ non-fiction titles, one about PTSD in the Canadian Armed Forces (yet to be reviewed) and the other about the Halifax Explosion of 1917. I was wanting a little escapist reading, no pun intended!
Escape!!! Is the story of a young expat Canadian named Will who is living and working in Tokyo, Japan. The child of a wealthy family, he is determined to escape (among other things) the capitalist leanings of his father and as a consequence, is more of a socialist in his outlook. He wants to save the world, but first he must save himself, so he seeks spirituality and meaning by going to the far east. He has lived in Tokyo for three years and can speak the language quite well. He works as an elevator operator (“one of the last elevator drivers in Japan”) and teaches English on the side. The novel begins optimistically enough, for he meets Sakura (Cherry Blossom) and becomes infatuated with her (and her perfume, Escape by Calvin Klein):
He’s filled with a desire and the accompanying energy to seize the world, to lean into it full-on, to try and arrest its advance and see what it will do.
Their relationship grows, but Sakura is a two-edged (Samurai?) sword for she introduces him to Ecstasy and Crack. At first he finds the drugs’ effect liberating, much like the Zen meditating he has done for years; yet in a few minutes, he gets the same effect from E that took years to attain by meditating. However, such addictions come at a price and this leads to Will’s downward spiral (near the end of the book he is wandering the streets of Tokyo in just a shirt and boxer shorts).
So he’d carried on all the way to Hiroshima, because that’s what he’s been doing to himself with the drugs- dropping nuclear bombs on his brain, razing everything built up over time and irradiating the rubble.
An Elevator Ride of a Story
I will say that I had a hard time getting into the first few chapters, but I decided to stick with it, since the story intrigued me from the beginning, and I wanted to see how it would develop. While I wouldn’t call Mr. Rodriguez’ writing ‘edgy’ it is different in a neuron-stimulating sort of way. Have you ever tried to read a page or two of a book with the book upside down? It ‘tickles’ the brain, compelling it to work in a way it is not accustomed to. That is the best way I can describe the writing style Mr. Rodriguez uses.
Each chapter of the book is an elevator ride with Will up the sixteen floors of the building he works in and each stop causes Will to reflect back on his life, his love of Sakura and the grand meaning of it all. Naturally, the 16th floor is the novel’s climax, so we are along for the ride with Will as he both literally ascends and figuratively descends in his thoughts and planned actions.
If you are looking to read something different, but not too far “out there”, then I can recommend Escape!!! as that type of reading. Caveat: There are F-bombs, primarily borne out of Will’s angst and some casual sex scenes with Sakura, but nothing exceedingly graphic. While I found it hard to get into the initial chapter, I advise sticking with it (and with Will) to the end. I don’t think you will be disappointed in your elevator trip to the top, most honourable reader!
JP grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and studied in various universities and earned a teaching degree. He began writing fiction in Tokyo while teaching English to students ranging in age from 3 to 88, and after two years teaching in London he returned to Canada to pursue a career in social work. He completed a master’s degree and currently works in that field in Toronto.