A man’s arrest becomes the turning point in a lifetime of misfortune in Blackmon’s (A Kitten Named Buddy, 2014, etc.) novel.
As the story opens in 2008, Joe Valentine is swiftly arrested after robbing a bank with a pellet gun. The sad, bleak view from the back of the police cruiser allows him some long overdue self-reflection. He thinks back on growing up in the 1980s with a wisecracking sister and an incredibly patient single mother who constantly asked him, “Now what did you do?” His attraction to trouble manifests in scenes in which he knocked over his deceased aunt’s casket at her funeral, or got stuck in a tree, resulting in long punishments from his exasperated parent. In high school, Joe is swayed by negative influences resulting in several calamities due to bad decisions, and a tryst with the principal’s daughter’s has unexpected consequences. Blackmon impressively builds on his lead character’s troubled adolescence and luckless adulthood in which he’s unable to hang onto a job. It all leads to the robbery and his unfortunate arrest, which makes Joe decide to change his ways. Although the prose can feel amateurish in spots, Blackmon has created a compelling protagonist in Joe, whom readers will continually root for in spite of his constant misfortune. Even as readers chuckle at the mishaps that befall him, they’ll find themselves sympathizing with him. The appeal of this creative, breezy debut is in discovering what messes Joe gets himself into and how he gets himself out of them, usually with a shrug and a desire for a good night’s sleep. In the end, it’s a simple but engaging story of a goodhearted character in desperate need of better luck and a clean break.
An entertaining novel about a ne’er-do-well trying to atone for his past.