California Dreamin’: Readin’ About the Golden State
I escaped DC this week. I’m currently in my hometown of Berkeley, California, house-sitting and dog-sitting for my parents, so I thought it would be nice to do an article highlighting a book about the Golden State. The book’s title is Now is the Hour and it was written by Tom Spanbauer.
On Tom’s website, it says, “Tom Spanbauer is a critically acclaimed author… a writer he has explored issues of race, of sexual identity, of how we make a family for ourselves in order to surmount the limitations of the families into which we are born…. his innovative approach combines close attention to language with a large-hearted openness to what he calls ‘the sore place’–that place within each of us that is the source for stories that no one else can tell… he lives, writes and teaches in Portland, Oregon.”
The publisher’s synopsis of this beautiful book is as follows:
The year is 1967, and Rigby John Klusener, seventeen years old and finally leaving his home and family in Pocatello, Idaho, is on the highway with his thumb out and a flower behind his ear, headed for San Francisco. Now Is the Hour is the wondrous story of how Rigby John got to this point. It traces his gradual emancipation from the repressions of a strictly religious farming family and from the small-minded, bigoted community in which he has grown up during a time of explosive cultural change.
Transforming this familiar journey from “American Graffiti” to “On the Road” into something rich and strange and hilarious is the persona of Rigby John himself. Intimately in touch with his fears, hesitantly awakening to his own sexuality, and palpably open to life’s mysteries, Rigby John is a protagonist whom readers will fall in love with, root for, and be moved by.
Admittedly, a lot of the book does not take place in California, however, Rigby John’s number one consuming obsession is getting to San Francisco, and this is the impetus for his entire journey. California dreamin’ is what drives Rigby John, and it’s a large part of the fantastic novel. The writing feels like Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, but more modern.
Some did not like the book, feeling that it was too melodramatic, with too much sex in it, but the majority of the reviews have been positive. Publisher’s Weekly said, ”…this [is a] straightforward but luminous tale of a country boy’s self-liberation… He leaves behind a pregnant girlfriend, a hopelessly mystified mother, an embittered father and a sister trapped in a brutal marriage. As he waits for a ride out on the deserted highway, he winds the story back to his childhood, then virtually walks the reader through a life marked by hard farm work, Catholic guilt and the liberating passion of deep friendships formed with the most scandalously disreputable people of the community. From his first school-yard fight to first experiences with sex (of various sorts), cigarettes, alcohol, pot, jealousy and love, Rigby John’s first person is at once reliable and highly ironic; we may know better, but he truly doesn’t, and the distance is delicious. And his genuine astonishment at other people keeps his telling edgy and warm, without allowing it to be sentimental.”
Tom Spanbauer is a truly talented writer, and although Now the Hour is engrossingly epic, I found myself lifting myself up from Rigby John’s narrative to take particular pleasure in how Spanbauer uses language and words in the novel. Find some of my favorite quotes below:
“Her heartbeat was in her hands, her heart beat the way she moved her head, her whole body was her heart beating.”
“So many moments I’ve stood close to the fire. But I always stepped back. Dared not step beyond the safety of the fulcrum point. George says you have to wait, to trust for the moment spirit touches you. What I’ve just figured out is that if you’re not there, ready for the spirit, ready to take the plunge, to jump, to fly, you’re shit out of luck. You have to step up too, and not just up to, you have to take the step that’s just beyond. Maybe the spirit will greet you, maybe not. In any case, you have to take the step alone.”
“…whether it’s God or the universe or the universe that’s inside you that fucks you up, either way, there don’t seems like a whole lot you can do about it. Trying to change yourself is as hard as trying to change the universe. Maybe there’s no difference. The fact is, shit happens none of us plan on… my advice is the same as the color orange in the cloakroom. You just got to keep looking.”
“Sometimes, the world is so beautiful it hurts.”
You should read this book, and fall in love with Rigby John just like the rest of us. This novel is so beautiful that it hurts.