Sitting atop a quiet goodness, Rev. Kin moves from the ranches of Texas to Chicago bars to England to cars traveling the roads of America toward Mexico. Here, the ordinary and surprising gets captured and transubstantiated into reverent scenes of desire, longing and release. Kin’s journey, though it takes him from places uniquely his–a Texas church, a rainy English cottage, a prison–is everyone’s. It’s a pilgrimage of living, where one might marry, help friends, leave aside responsibility, or do right despite the law and consequences.
WHERE THEY GRAZE WITHOUT FLOWERS is about the world that occurs inside–the soul or mind– while the body goes about the ordinary details of life. Author R. Joseph has written a mesmerizing elegy to life, bathed in raw sunlight and always lit by its low-watt intensity. Joseph writes of stories within stories, and then gives readers the ripples of his writing through the writings of Sal, Kin’s close friend. Sal closes his Chicago bar, poetry in his mind and road-lust brewing in his soul. Joseph imbues Sal with a dignified desperation that settles into the landscape of the novel. Sal’s writings get published, and he gains a small following. Joseph allows Sal to be Kin’s touchstone, a mostly distant muse with whom he finds comfort when they come together. And Sal draws on Kin’s quiet dignity and ever-searching, flawed soul.
Underneath it all is a constant in the story: Caroline. Joseph invents a seldom-there but major character, one who is met at the novel’s opening under tragic circumstances. Joseph gives her strength and dignity, allowing her to grow without wandering, to become who she is right where she lives. Kin keeps going back to her, reminding himself who he is, and how to be. Caroline counters the peripatetic ways of Sal and Kin, and grounds the story in the fertile red dirt of Texas. By doing this, the novel reminds readers that traveling can only exist because of the idea of permanence, of staying in one place. It’s a beautiful subtext as Sal and Kin wander the decades.
Novels that reach for meaning often fail miserably or meander into mediocrity. WHERE THEY GRAZE WITHOUT FLOWERS floats easily into its comfortable meditation on life. Real conversations packed with meaningful layers of occur without forceful wedging or clumsy effort. Joseph observes, captures, writes and paints a wonderful prayer of contemplation. The journey comes to end as tragedy becomes beauty. As in life, new people arrive, meet the old and then the old become part of the memory of the new.
In the lyrical WHERE THEY GRAZE WITHOUT FLOWERS, flawed characters traverse decades, searching for the always elusive meaning of life. The book delivers great delights and deep truths and beauty comes in light rays and silent ripples. And all around is water.
~Greg Rideout for IndieReader