Jim Whitelaw lives with his roommate Sparky in Calgary as he tries to figure out his life after a humiliating dismissal by a military tribunal. Over the last three months, his close friend David helps him get back on track by helping him find a job and enfolding him into his circles where he meets Bert. But Jim is far from sorted and as the story progresses he has to decide the life he wants to live.
Ron Kearse’s JUST OUTSIDE OF HOPE (the sequel to his novel Road Without End) is divided into two parts with the first part focusing on Jim and the second on Bert. Jim’s story is fraught with emotional complexities and focuses on his relationships with his family and friends. On many levels, it is also an inward exploration of how Jim relates to himself after the big fiasco that turned his life upside down. Jim’s narrative is tinged with a vulnerability that feels relatable. He goes through a myriad of emotions in a short span of time–sadness at his father’s lack of understanding, frustration at his stubborn refusal to accept Jim’s way of life, and happiness at discovering that his long-time friend perhaps might not be just a friend. Through it all there is a certain underlying restlessness at not knowing what’s next for him. But a couple of shocking events eventually gives Jim the strength that he had been seeking, enough to help him put things in perspective for the time being.
Although it feels totally unrelated, there is the faintest of threads connecting Jim’s story with that of Bert’s; one that is more action-driven and picaresque. After a somber and quite personal narrative that illuminates Jim’s life, the reader is suddenly taken into a world of debauchery and hedonism as Bert and his friend Givens embark on a road trip. But beneath the vivid parties and wild sexual encounters that they have along the way, there is an undercurrent of dread, a feeling of impending doom. The reader knows that things can change any minute, and this crackling energy keeps the pages turning fast.
Kearse writes with sensitivity, making the emotionally charged moments feel raw and palpable using spare prose to heighten the effect. He also employs real and important events to remind the reader of the time that the story is set in. For example, the news of John Lennon’s death on the radio interrupts the conversation between Mike and Jim. The fine lines that define Jim and Glenn are, unfortunately, absent in other characters who play equally important roles. One wishes there was more about how Givens came to be the person he is, how Cliff coped with his divorce or a peek into his state of mind as he embraces his identity. The plot, too, takes a plunge after it enters Bert’s story, dwindling into ambling diversions and characters. Much like the road trip itself.
Despite being a sequel, Ron Kearse’s JUST OUTSIDE OF HOPE can be read perfectly well on its own. It is a quick, sensitivity written and engaging read, but would have benefited from a stronger storyline in the second half.
~Swati Nair for IndieReader