A bildungsroman tells the story of an ordinary man seeking a sense of fulfillment in his life.
Susnow’s (Dancing on the River, 2010) novel stars a young man named Roderick Bartholomew McPherson III, known to everybody as “Buddy,” as he progresses through his life seeking wisdom and direction in the second half of the 20th century on the West Coast. Readers are taken through Buddy's life at a fairly steady, often leisurely, pace: the early death of his father, his experience facing down a bully in military school, his budding interest in music, and so on. Instead of going to college, he and his dog take to the road and begin wandering in Northern California, where Buddy quickly encounters a mysterious older man named Mervin. Mervin is careful to distinguish himself from the mythical Merlin of King Arthur fame, but nevertheless offers to become Buddy’s mentor and teach him to harness the magic he has inside. Although they'll meet again at key intervals throughout the book, their initial encounter is brief, only long enough for some fairly unsurprising gnomic utterances on Mervin’s part—“Universal rules and principles are always true, except when they’re not. Be open to all possibilities”—and other fortune-cookie truisms that mean nothing because they can mean anything. While quoting from business-seminar gurus like Napoleon Hill, Mervin imparts to Buddy an optimism about life’s opportunities, and the young man carries this with him as he embarks on the kind of voyage of self-discovery that was once a mainstay of the hippie counterculture movement in California. During this predictable journey, Buddy strums his guitar at a cafe/bookstore/hangout named Annie’s, meets characters with names like Scorpia and The Blues, and attends a dreamy institution called the University of the Curious, where he meets like-minded seekers and tries to expand his awareness of the human brain’s potential (the often-debunked Uri Geller gets an obligatory mention). Fortunately, Susnow’s narrative picks up both speed and interest once Buddy becomes a lawyer, gets married, begins a career in socially conscious litigation, and undergoes business reversals and personal betrayals in the novel’s latter half. Readers who've stuck around thanks to the author’s easy, inviting prose should find themselves rewarded from the mid-point on.
An earnest, if somewhat by-the-numbers, tale of a wanderer’s inner awakenings.