In his first nonfiction effort, Van Meter (Day of the Little Guy, 1996) documents the rise and fall of his past lives.
When readers first meet the modern-day Van Meter, he’s chasing an armed intruder from his home. He doesn’t waste time arguing about the how or why of reincarnation—he just assumes its existence and leaps from that initial chase into another, centuries before, when he hunted and killed a man who’d been his nemesis through many lives. Then it’s back to the first life Van Meter can remember, that of an ancient, warlike Scotsman during the time of the Romans. While Van Meter’s present-day narrative is stilted, with too much time spent discussing how the story will move forward, his recounting of that first life assumes a smooth, graceful lope. There’s just enough debauchery—usually in the name of paganism or war—to border on gratuitous, but there’s also a deep, abiding love that lingers through each of Van Meter’s lives. “My being was never more absorbed by a woman, a place, or a community than it was then,” he writes of the Irishwoman he married. When she and the community they built are both rudely yanked away, it sets up a revolving conflict, along with fellowships, which continues into the present day. At first, Van Meter seems to be telling two distinct stories that don’t quite mesh—that of his contemporary self, with some confusing references to the “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, followed by the wild Scotsman. But as he snaps back to today, the author gathers together the storylines that bind his first and most recent lives into a cohesive plot, tracing parts of himself that he’s carried for centuries.
An awkward beginning develops into a smooth account of multiple reincarnations as the author traces “the silvery flecks of memories of people who used to be.”