July 10, 2020

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Brotherly love sends sibling on an emotional quest

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2015 (1924 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

American author Skip Horack's second novel, The Other Joseph, is a book within a book and an extraordinary homage to brotherly love. It is authentic, poetic and heartbreaking, and the two brothers at its core are impossible to forget and impossible not to love.

Tommy and Roy Joseph, eight years apart, are raised on a farm in rural Louisiana with hippie-ish school teacher parents. The American South also is the setting for much of the fiction in Horacks's 2009 short-story collection The Southern Cross.

The Joseph family is stable and loving, and the boys are kind, thoughtful, decent and completely devoted to one another. They spend much of their free time together, seeing each other for the last time when Roy is only 12 and Tommy 20, the latter about to ship out on the eve of the first Gulf War.

Soon after, Tommy, who broke his parents' hearts by choosing the navy SEALS over college, disappears into the sea. Five years later, his parents are killed in an accident, and Roy, a college freshman, is left all alone.

In the midst of his grief, Roy makes a terrible mistake, and this mistake costs him his freedom. Still he forges ahead.

Unable to return to school, he finds work on the Gulf Coast oil rigs, and spends the next decade as a roughneck alternating two-week shifts on and off the water. During his off-rig time he hides away with his dog in a Grand Isle trailer home, keeping to himself and aching for his lost family.

And then, as he nears his 30th birthday, Roy gets an email from California that changes his life. A 16-year-old girl named Joni claims to be his niece, the daughter of his long-dead brother Tommy.

Dubious but elated that "... a man with no one but a dog might stumble upon a family," Roy sets out to find Joni. En route, he revisits some of the ghosts of his past, pursues a romance of sorts and encounters a host of characters, each one of them sharply drawn.

They include a front-desk hotel clerk with a nose "...shrivelled like a dried fig, as if God had cursed her for sticking it in everyone's business," a cigar-smoking Russian matchmaker, and Tommy's off-the-grid navy SEAL buddy Lionel Purcell.

It is Lionel who fills in the gaps for Roy about Tommy's service, sacrifices and slip-ups, and it these stories that Roy in turn offers to Joni when he finally finds her.

This is, after all, a novel about storytelling, or rather two books about storytelling -- one is Roy's story about missing his brother, the other is Tommy's story about literally missing, just by a few months, his baby brother Roy.

Together, these separate but joined narratives make a remarkable and complete work of fiction -- much in the same way that two brothers separated too soon and forever still make a family.

 

Sharon Chisvin is a Winnipeg writer.

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