Monday, July 11, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Lions by Bonnie Nadzam

I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Lions by Bonnie Nadzam is a novel about love and loss, contentment and regret. The themes are common ones, but elevated by the haunting style and lovely writing.

Lions is the name of a dying town on the plains, a place of disappointment and heartbreak where a small group of good people struggle to get by, and where most don’t.

There are multiple protagonists, but the story focuses on two young people in love, Gordon Walker and Leigh Ransom. Leigh works in her mother’s tumble-down cafĂ©, a place where hungry and sometimes curious motorists stop for lunch while on their way somewhere else. Leigh has two ambitions, to leave Lions and to take Gordon with her.

Gordon works in his father’s welding shop. John Walker is a local legend of sorts. His welding is famous throughout the area, and it’s said he could make a bundle if he were to take his talents to the city. But John won’t ever leave Lions and his devoted wife is content to stay also.

There is a rumor about town that John stays to take care of a ghostlike creature up north somewhere: Boggs. Rumor had it that an old miner named Boggs was wounded on the trail and his friends left him for dead, but he didn’t die. Instead, he was discovered and saved by a long ago good Samaritan. Ever since, and this has been generations, it has fallen to someone to take care of him. No one believes the old legend, but everyone believes that if it were true, the caretaker would be the generous, calm John Walker. Rumors are fed by John’s mysterious disappearances. Every few weeks, he drives north for days at a time and no one knows where he goes, except, perhaps, for his wife. And she’s not saying.

The summer before Leigh and Gordon are supposed to leave for college, everything falls apart. Supposedly, it starts with the entrance into town of a nameless wanderer, a homeless man with his dog, who is fed and clothed by the Walkers. But when he gets into town, he’s mocked by the local bully. A bar fight ensues and the man spends the night in jail, to the detriment of all involved.

Shortly afterward, John Walker has a heart attack and dies. His business falls to Gordon.

As Gordon changes and Leigh’s hopes fade, others in town are forced to make decisions also. The town, which has been called "a living ghost town," continues dying but at an accelerated pace.

Lions is strange, sad, multi-layered, and highly recommended.