Is Jack Caufield a simplified Bob Waldner?
My take is that he more or less is.
So how much of the plot is taken from real life?
All of it?
Well not as a chronology of a single existence, but yes, this all can have happened. The plot is novel in construct, inventive, containing adrenaline kickers, psychological, thoughtful, page turning and ultimately frustrating in a very good reflective of unfolding true life. As individuals we never get all the answers to anything, do we? Crimes and their solutions are usually beautifully dovetailed in conventional genre reads but rarely in the grit and sweat of real life.
To Jack, so much of the life he has cut-out for himself seems to be far short of what he would have liked to achieve, despite the fact that he is more than financially secure. He is pervaded by self-doubt. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up” and, “I’m not brave enough to be what I want to be” are ever familiar thoughts. We are never satisfied and yet rarely able to change such fundamental truths. How many people actually gain the courage that weak Jack needs? Jack Caufield, the ghost of Waldner, has settled for never trying to achieve more than a ‘middle-of-the-road’ sum of his parts will easily allow. He could have really done something special with the events, and thus opportunities, that imposed themselves on him. Even a murder can be an opportunity, a bringer of fame or infamy, or perhaps a chance to lever opinion or be a hero. The book is full of possible initiatives not taken. Jack does nothing more than take an essentially easy and predictable safe path, following the lead of those he naively, even timidly, trusts. We suspect that even his single status is a reflection of his total lack of balls.
Real life- We the individual can of course play safe and still be high achievers, be typical Jack Caufields. Though then we are, generally speaking, only achieving cogs because we play patsy to someone else’s greater games; just like Jack. We may never be brave enough to unlock the key of our potential, to try and break the mould that life has poured us into. The second main character in this story spectacularly fails, but at least he is brave enough to try. I felt far more sympathetic to his cause whether he is mad or not. He put the physical key, to a door with massive possibilities, into Jack’s hands.
Many readers won’t like the left hanging questions, the lack of solved clues, the chapter that slides into the worship of baseball, the lack of developed of female characters, the frustrations of looking at a deeply unlikable main character. The list goes on with everyone’s choosing from the smorgasbord of often unusual, not quite in any genre, not often mixed together ingredients.
Jack hasn’t even got the ‘ballgame’ to risk his paycheque whatever legal/accounting abuse he is expected to be complicit in hiding, let-alone to really risk his life in helping uncover a murder. It is unusual in this kind of book to be asked to see life through the eyes of such a pathetic and manipulated character. As for my personal view, I love the whole construction. This is a fantastic book. Well paced, Inventive, original, finally believable, grammatically well written, and is typical of the sort of wonderful reading that had as about as much chance of getting through the barriers of the traditional publishers as I have of walking with Richard Branston on the Moon. Certainly at the extreme end of improbable, especially as I don’t know that living legend, though ultimately possible.
What a tragedy it would have been if the long time intention to publish had been abandoned by Waldner. How sad if he had given up, in the way that his main character would have done. It is a reasonable conjecture that Jack went on after the final chapter to at least follow some very weak version of his baseball dream, but I doubt it. We will have to wait and see whether he appears in a sequel to stand any chance of finding out.
My view is that this book might have been even better written in the first person. However, even this sort of one perspective narrative is often regarded as best written in the third person. The distaste amongst so many literary heavyweights for first person narrative persists in 2014. Such was certainly a very often recognised ‘proof’ of amateur stamped on the literary hopes of would be authors in the days when the early chapters of Waldner’s book were first drafted. The author is very open about having returned much later to a previously abandoned script. Perhaps Waldner simply prefers that still dominant style and quite justifiably mocks my suggestion. After all the script works well as it is. However, I argue that possibly a little is lost to the reader by being forced to look inside from a distance rather than looking outside from within. I would love to know what you think if you find the time to read this book. We still get a strong sense of Jack’s ‘point of view’, but surely more weakly than we would have felt it with such good writing projected as from the character’s mind.