Since starting this blog, I have had the opportunity to read several debut books by new writers who are publishing their works exclusively for the digital market. Today I am happy to introduce James Conway, whose ebook The Vagabond King is now available.
Written in poetic prose with the blues as a driving rhythmic force, The Vagabond King is a coming-of-age story about a teen whose mother has just died, and his journey to find himself in the wake of this tragedy. Chris is directionless and discontent at school. His father is constantly trying to push him to make a decision about his future, one that involves a good job and a steady income. Their relationship is strained at best, and after his mother dies, it worsens until Chris decides one day to leave home for good. He seeks out a woman he meets at a bar named Magda, and, although it stretches credibility, he moves in with her and her cantankerous father, a Hungarian refugee with many stories to tell. Chris is smitten with Magda and dreams that “she will take me upstairs and lead me to her broad and well storied bed, the Promised Land, and there she would make a man of me.” Life at Magda’s doesn’t go exactly as planned, however. Christ must contend with Magda’s father Mick, who Chris refers to as “the Old Man,” and his tragic stories of his life in communist Hungary and his eventual escape to America. Magda, a much older woman, seems uninterested in Chris and does not even want him there. And in the background of every waking moment, the blues plays on Mick’s record player, a scratchy soundtrack reminding Chris that he does not belong.
Before long, Mick gets Chris a job at a printing plant, and he befriends a man named Atman who has his own life lessons to impart. After several months of this existence, an unexpected tragedy, and a change in Chris’ relationship with Magda, he finally decides to go home and confront his father about a long-buried secret.
Along with Mick’s ramblings of the old days and Magda’s ongoing conversations with Chris about the history of religion, the story sometimes loses focus as Conway slips into what feels more like a lesson on history and philosophy than a narrative tale. Many passages, although poetic, are overwritten and unfortunately take the reader out of the story, and even though it is Chris telling the tale, I can feel the author intruding during these ramblings. Some of the characters, too, feel more like props than flesh and blood people. Magda, for instance, who could have been one of the more interesting characters, felt strangely two-dimensional to me. I actually preferred Atman as a character, who is also searching for his real father. Although he, like most of the others, has valuable information for Chris, his energy was infectious and his appearance in the story was too brief.
I did appreciate the consistency of the central theme, however, which finds Chris on a constant search for something that will make his life meaningful: his real father, an adult relationship with Magda, and even an understanding of God and the universe. References to “The Vagabond King” in connection with Mick and God give the title meaning and the story focus, and the recurring theme of the blues as a metaphor for life work nicely as a backdrop for Chris’ sorrow and confusion and his eventual acceptance of his mother’s death.
If you like your fiction mixed with musings on philosophy, religion, and the meaning of life, then The Vagabond King just might be your cup of tea. You can purchase it here.