The more things change, the more they stay the same. Tough times, with the economy plummeting, and the streets full of violence. A drifter, a runaway, tries navigating this hostile world, seeking something that might as well be fortune: survival. Such was author Fordon James’ life, and such is his heart-wrenching novel, “The Sound Post.” An echo of how things used to be, a chilling reminder, and perhaps a sample of what the world might become again.
James Buck is fleeing his past and bound for an uncertain future. The only thing he has is a few dollars, a duffel and a second-hand violin inside a crummy case. He's a prospector fresh from the bus station, trudging towards New Orleans, simmering from the humidity and the recession. The only thing he's got going for him is his wits, he's a self-taught man navigating the mean streets and the watering holes. Nine Inch Nails blares in the air. The era of grunge is set to start. Around Buck, the decaying cityscape is distorted by neon and apathetic noise, anesthesia dulling the pain wracking mainstream America.
The whole country is a hospice. Opportunities are scarce, racism and class antagonism seethes at every corner. Buck becomes just another disenchanted and impoverished soul in a procession worthy of Tom Joad's ghost. His is a spiritual journey into the American spirit, a modern-day Heart of Darkness. Along the way and amidst the fear and loathing he catches glimpses of love, trust, youth, morality and perhaps something meaningful. All to James' lyrical prose, like an ode to the imperfect society he dwells in. Not glorification or romanticization, but a tribute to the real souls struggling to just make do with what they've got - fractured pieces of the idealized vision that was sold to them. Those once-perfect suburban houses with white picket fences now in disrepair and just falling to pieces as foliage reclaim them. Modern cityscape deprived of potential, reduced to barren detritus-lined sidewalks and forsaken slums.
James' narrative shows that what people cobble together can be beautiful precisely because of the stakes and the odds they're facing. Merely existing and continuing becomes an act of herculean strength. In a way it is heartbreaking, but this is America as James depicts it. This is what’s become of the Dream and the countless lives that believed in it, and their only hope is to salvage the crumbling world around them. In such a daunting landscape, all they have left is each other. And maybe that’s all they need.
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Fordon James is an artist and writer residing in Seattle, Washington. He is currently at work on another fictional novel based loosely on real experiences.