Midwest Book Review, Reviewer’s Choice
Larry Baker’s latest book “A Good Man” is a meaty piece of fiction writing which is as much a revisitation of some of his characters from books past as well as digging up characters from the likes of Flannery O’Connor and Harry Chapin. In so doing, he gives them a renewed vitality and place to go in our times. It is a bit of religious treatise blended with a boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl story.
Set in eerily real settings in West Branch, Iowa, St. Augustine, Florida, and places that only Baker’s finely honed, fertile imagination can take us, “A Good Man” tells the story of Harry Ducharme, one part morning DJ from WOLD and one part Larry Baker’s crotchety alter-ego. Ducharme, a once formidable radio personality, has hit the skids as a barely-functional alcoholic who spouts poetry and philosophy from 10 pm until 2 am in the morning for all the waking world to hear on WWHD in St. Augustine. With a rag-tag group of others, including a Rush Limbaugh acolyte with a heart of gold, a stay-at-home radio cooking show host, a real-live fireman, and a cast of ne’r do wells that keep the tale rolling down A1A with humor and a whole lot of truth. And did I mention the parrot named Jimmy Buffett?
All of this artifice sets up an exceptional and unusual story of love, loss, and redemption that would make an evangelical take notice if they weren’t offended by the presumption of a chosen One walking the earth with Harry Ducharme as their guardian angel. It is a marvelous piece of writing that is at once cynical and endearing about how life takes unusual twists and turns and everyone ends up in somebody else’s story.
Where does the road lead? If you have read Baker’s “Athens, America” or “Flamingo,” you will be surprised where this trip takes you. Baker has found a mature, compelling voice to write this tale which is both brutally honest and rib-tickling. More like Tom Robbins without the shaman-aesthetic than William Faulkner, it still manages to entertain and intrigue as the reader becomes part of the bumper car ride between the real world that Ducharme and his comrades inhabit and the world of the possible.
As much as a love offering to writers that Baker admires as an original piece of American fiction, you may find yourself, as I did, dropping your jaw by the time you approach the end of the story. At a brisk 264 pages, it moves with liquidity toward an ending that is nothing short of deja vu.