Monday, October 24, 2011
Review: Simple Treasures
Simple Treasures by Alan Chin
Lance Bishop has a mountain of debts, and he might go to jail if he can’t repay what he has appropriated to himself before anyone notices. Selling his father’s ranch and property looks like the perfect way out of his dilemma, he even has his buyers lined up already. There’s only one big obstacle, the fact that his father is still alive.
Though physically unable to keep the ranch running and mentally broken after the death of his beloved wife six years ago, Emmet Bishop refuses to either leave the ranch or die. Eaten up with illness, grief and self-pity, the old man has cut himself off from the world, even from the last person who still cares for him, his grandson Jude Elder. He spends his days sitting around in his long johns and drinking whiskey from the bottle, and he has driven off each and every single nurse Lance sent his way so far, thus unwittingly playing into his son’s hands.
Lance is determined to solve the problem of his stubborn father by having him deprived of the right of decision – he has already arranged for a judicial verdict – and all he needs to get that is his father drunk and incapable in the face of a judge in spite of being allegedly provided with hired help.
This is how Simple comes into play. A Shoshone by birth, orphaned as a minor, Simple was raised by his grandfather. He has spent the last few years in a mental institution since he was deemed gone mad after his grandfather’s death, and even though he is apparently marginally capable of looking after himself now, he still has issues, the biggest of which is his lack of short time memory. It is as if Simple’s mind was always wiped clean overnight from everything that happened during the previous day, so that he keeps forgetting names and faces and even the place where he currently is and what purpose he has there. On the other hand, Simple is educated and well-read, and his grandfather brought him up to high moral standards and taught him the warrior’s way of living in harmony with everything that surrounds him.
To Simple, his inability to remember isn’t an issue. He deals with it by keeping detailed diaries, every morning reading the last ten pages in order to be forearmed for the next day. Aside from this, he actually prefers being able to leave the past behind rather than remembering what happened to him in the mental institution and especially what brought him there in the first place. Bits and pieces of memory pop up often enough to torture him anyway.
Upon first seeing Emmet, all but devoid of dignity and in utter disharmony with himself and with the world in general, Simple almost bails, despite the fact that he really has nowhere else to go. It’s Jude who first coaxes him into staying, Emmet’s gay goth grandson, who truely cares for his grandfather in spite of the derision the old man treats him with. Even though he sees through his father’s scheme, Jude doesn’t have the self esteem to stand up against Lance. In Simple, Jude recognizes an ally in the fight for his grandfather’s well-being – and there’s an unmistakable attraction between the two young men which Jude is determined not to let slip past unexplored.
Once he has made up his mind about Emmet, Simple spares no effort to help the old man finding back to himself. Since Emmet’s body is destroyed beyond repair, it’s his soul Simple aims to set back on the right path, the warrior’s way. With Jude’s help and the esoteric guidance of his shaman grandfather’s spirit , Simple implicates Emmet into the preparations for a healing ceremony according to Shoshone traditions which includes catching a falcon and taming her.
As a side effect, their common purpose brings Jude and Simple closer together. Attraction slowly becomes love, to a point that Simple for the first time doesn’t want to forget anymore, but instead starts fighting for his full mental recovery as Jude opens more and more to him every day and finally puts his trust in him.
But Lance, besides himself with fury and desperation when he sees his evil plans about to be thwarted, takes to violence in order to get rid of his annoying father and Simple alike once and for all. Now it’s Simple who’s in desperate need of salvation, and he can only hope that Jude has healed enough to stand up against his father, and to do what needs to be done to save Simple’s life and sanity.
I said above that I thought this a wonderful story, and I meant this literally. It’s a story full of wonders, from the vivid descriptions of landscapes and artfully woven-in little info-bits on falconry and fly-fishing to the great, multi-layered characters, from the vibrant emotions to the subtle underlying message. Since every new day is a new life to Simple, he goes about everything he does with almost child-like innocence. Yet, he also has the wisdom of an old soul that enables him to make seemingly unsolvable complicated things appear easy – truly simple, as it is. His simplicity has nothing to do with stupidity, rather with utter openness and genuine humility. He wants nothing, expects nothing, and takes everything that comes at him with grace, completely living in the moment. Only love, a real connection with someone else, can shake him out of his blissful nirvana. As Simple reaches out to Jude, he reaches out to himself, and by setting Emmet’s spirit free, he frees his own mind of his grandfather’s debilitating influence. The process is just beautiful to watch even though it requires a fiery exorcism.
I’ve always been partial to Alan Chin’s distinctive narrative voice which to me is lyrical without pathos, idealistic without moralizing and strong yet subtle enough to stay in the background without overshadowing the characters’ own voices.
This is not a book I’d read when I’m in the mood for mindless entertainment, it’s a gripping, resonating story that had me deeply involved and went straight to my heart.
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