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Review of Journey Back by Dan Martin

First time novelist Dan Martin certainly seems to know his subject matter. A therapist and an attorney, it’s likely that Martin has somewhat more than a passing familiarity with mental illness, drugs, and the degenerate world in which the displaced and shiftless ne’er-do-wells who populate his short and quirky debut “Journey Back,” move.

Sprinkling in liberal doses of substance abuse, odd sexual scenarios, and profanity, the author takes us on a trippy, movie-like travelogue through the mad mind and drug-fueled adventures of the aliased writer “Richard Jones,” as Jones explores the dark underbelly of San Francisco’s drug culture, and his own troubled psyche. In lively and interesting fashion, Jones careens through acute episodes of mental illness, recreational drug use, and encounters with characters that have shady, addictive, and lowbrow tendencies similar to his own, on his way to penning an expose about a newly discovered wonder drug while passing himself off as phony journalist “Mitch James”.

In delivering his somewhat farfetchedly premised, yet plausibly and luridly detailed yarn, Martin employs a deft dual narrative structure, which alternates the first person account of the adventures of Jones-as-James with the back-story of the paranoid and deluded Jones’ mental breakdown, separately tracking these current and past storylines until they dovetail toward the end of the book. (Think of a structure not unlike the similar but somewhat pretentiously intellectual “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”) The author tells his tale through both narrative and dialogue in colloquial, sometimes clipped but often rhythmically charming, lowbrow language which seems perfectly suited to his characters, who from Jones down to an assortment of bums who make cameo appearances, are vividly and idiosyncratically developed to just the depth necessary to move the story along.

Jones, through his unfolding life experiences, and with a big assist from the wonder drug, which induces a healing sort of self-enlightenment (and in the process provides a nifty hook and fulcrum for the book), ultimately overcomes his personal demons and finds peace. Generously incorporating elements of mainstream psychiatry and 60’s counter-culture, with a bit of a new age sensibility, Jones’ journey concludes in a way that suggests, in a thought-provoking but entertaining way, that even a life largely lived in waste, debauchery, and vice is not necessarily misspent beyond redemption and perhaps may ultimately find salvation in unexpected fashion.

“Journey Back” likely will establish Martin as a fledgling master of things seedy, shady, and sordid, should the author continue to dip his pen in the murky ink of life’s backwaters and cesspools, which, all things considered, would not be a bad thing for his readers.

(I was provided an advance copy of this noteworthy book, which is available to the public May 22, 2006. For anyone interested in more information, this is the website for the book:

Submitted by John Schwarz, posted on Monday May 01, @11:33AM

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