By Larry E. Huddleston
Reviewed by Christopher Zoukis
Young Adult literature – a.k.a. YA to librarians, booksellers, and other assorted cognoscenti – has changed a great deal in the last ten years and may well be the fastest growing genre of literature. For example, the Harry Potter series of books, The Book Thief, and the vampire series penned by Stephanie Myers. Even though millions of adults have read and enjoyed these books, they are classified as YA.
One guy who happens to write novels for young adults is Larry Huddleston, who is an interesting person in his own right. According to the ‘about the author’ page in the back of his book, Larry was convicted of bank robbery. And not just one bank robbery, but “numerous counts of bank robbery, armed bank robbery and use of a dangerous weapon during the commission of a crime of violence.” Not your usual Weenie Hut Junior literary type.
Just Beyond the Curve is the title of Larry’s CWY-YA novel (country western yodeler young adult). And candidly, I fully expected the book to be ‘less than efficacious,’ as friend of mine used to say. Which is a polite way of saying I thought it would stink.
Boy was I surprised. Larry the ex-bank robber knows how to hook his readers. Take for instance, the first line of the first chapter. “In reality there are very few people in the world who do not long for fame and fortune.” Right away, the reader gets the point. There’s going to be lots of fame and fortune in this story. And since the first sentence of the first chapter of Just Beyond the Curve is correct – most people do long for fame and fortune (I know I do) – the reader keeps reading. The reader decides to give the author (Larry the ex-bank robber) some slack. A few more paragraphs just to see where the story’s going.
And that’s all it takes. A few more paragraphs and the author (Larry the ex-bank robber) has the reader solidly hooked.
The author writes in a genial voice, one that’s perhaps a little corn-pony, but hey, it’s a country western yodeler novel. Most importantly, Larry Huddleston has a sense of how to tell a story, and he almost never overplays his hand. Almost, because in one or two spots the story comes close to being sappy. But despite the occasional sideswipes with ooey gooey, the characters and the plot continue to hold the reader’s attention.
Like most country western songs and country western movies, Just Beyond the Curve is predictable. The reader knows what’s going to happen before it happens, which, more often than not, is the kiss of death for a novel. But not in this case. Just Beyond the Curve’s anticipated twists and turns are part of its charm. Why? Because predictability is the foundation upon which country western music-movies-novels rest. Broken hearts, finding true love, redemption, and happy-ever-after are emotions with which most human beings identify. It’s emotion that makes life interesting and real and worth living.
And if you think about it, emotions are fairly predictable. When I discover that my lover is cheating on me, I weep and wail and suffer horribly. My misery is expected, not only by me, but also by others around me. If I become rich and famous, which in our culture means I’ve attained a certain type of happiness, then by golly I should be happy. It’s expected. If not happy when I become rich and famous, then amicability with reality would be sternly tested. In short, there would be something wrong with me to most peoples’ way of thinking.
In other words, it is the very predictability of life and its attendant emotions that keep most of us sane. And that sanity, that alignment with reality, is what makes Just Beyond the Curve’s predictability so attractive. We – the readers – can identify and empathize with the characters in the story. So in that sense, the story’s predictability gives free reign to our emotional catharsis. We – the readers – get to experience what it feels like to be to be a country western yodeler, to be rich and famous, to be envied, to, in short, have it all.
And it’s that feeling that makes Huddleston’s novel such a likeable and enjoyable read. Just Beyond the Curve provides readers with an emotional experience, the kind of experience most people dream about.