Is honesty the best policy? Alexander Poole thinks so, but it also comes with its share of problems.
John Vorhaus crafts yet another winning novel with Poole’s Paradise, a semi-quasi-coming-of-age-ish novel set in the mid-70’s at a small liberal arts college in New England. If you’ve ever read Vorhaus, then you’ve experienced his dance with the English language, a spectacular freestyle that leaves the reader breathless and wanting more. He successfully integrates humor and insight with flowing readability, yet twists the plot at each turn of the page.
The protagonist, Alexander Poole, believes that everything happens for a reason and everyone he meets has a lesson for him. He’s also blatantly honest, which bites him in the butt more often than not. That trait comes into play throughout his quest for the meaning of life—or at least, his purpose in the world—and at times, made me question the rigorous nature of my own honesty. How would I respond in that situation? Would I tell the truth, skirt the truth, or downright lie? Through his excellent use of first person, Vorhaus slipped me right inside Poole’s skin. The situations, although increasingly outrageous, were realistic to a tee.
With witty, moving dialogue and spot-on music and cultural references, Vorhaus paints a vivid picture of college life in the seventies, where the all-important need for a great sound system leads Poole into the waiting jaws of a sleazy stereo salesman named Wayne.
Wayne, in turn (everybody and everything for a reason, remember?), hires Poole to gouge his fellow collegians with lo-qual hi-fi, opening the door to meet and receive life lessons from a variety of oddballs and lowlifes (and date a couple of hot chicks in the process). It all culminates in a road trip with his marijuana-mooching best friend and roommate, Donny (“but don’t call me Don”), to the backwoods of Connecticut in search of black market chestnut trees. It may sound far-fetched in this reviewer’s retelling, but it plays out as pure 24k gold in his book.
Without spoiling it, the ending caught me a little off-guard, but was quite an appropriate resolution for Poole. After a second, I chuckled, then it sunk in a bit more and I laughed out loud, remembering why I’ve loved all of Vorhaus’s books. He has a gift: the uncanny ability to bring the reader in as if they were sitting at dinner laughing over college war stories, saying, “Hey, remember the time?…” and then telling it better than it really happened.
Buy Poole’s Paradise, but if you want a real treat, buy all of his novels. Vorhaus will feel like an old college buddy in no time.
About John Vorhaus
I recently had the opportunity to meet the author behind the books at the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference in Salem, and let me tell you, the man is pure unadulterated genius. I wasn’t only an eager student in his sessions (The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not and On Revision: Squeezing out the Stupid), but also sat in on a few nights of poker and shot the breeze about pretty much anything and everything. I don’t use the word genius lightly. As a matter of fact, I rarely use it at all, but in this case, it fits like an acquitting glove without the latex underneath. Rather than gush on and on about our burgeoning bromance, I’ll simply copy and paste the bio from his website, lest I forget a crucial detail:
“John Vorhaus is best known as the author of The Comic Toolbox: How to be Funny Even if You’re Not. This seminal book on writing comedy for television and film is now available in four languages, and continues to be a definitive source of information and inspiration for writers from Santa Monica to Scandinavia.
An international consultant in television and film script development, Vorhaus has worked for television networks, film schools, and production companies in 30 countries on five continents, including half-year stints in Romania and, God help him, Russia in winter. He has traveled regularly to Nicaragua, where he helped build a social-action drama designed to teach the young people of Nicaragua to “think for themselves and practice safe sex.”
Vorhaus’ own screenwriting credits include Married… with Children, Head of the Class, The Sentinel, The Flash and many overseas television shows and films, including the sitcoms House Arrest and Pretty, Sick and Twisted, and the movie Save Angel Hope.
In another corner of his ADD multiverse, he is the author of the six-volume Killer Poker series,plus miscellaneous other books on the subject, including the novel Under the Gun, a “how-to whodunit” set in the world of high stakes tournament poker. His other novels include The California Roll and its sequels, The Albuquerque Turkey and The Texas Twist, plus the coming-of-age hippie lit novel, Lucy in the Sky and Poole’s Paradise, an imperfect search for purpose.
Vorhaus is a graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University and a member of the Writers Guild of America. He has taught writing at Northwestern University and the American Film Institute, and lectured for such disparate groups as Mensa and the New Jersey Romance Writers Association. His favorite sport is ultimate, his favorite game is poker, and his favorite color is plaid. He lives in Southern California in the company of his wife and an endless rota of dogs.”
So if you’re looking for a good time this weekend and have heretofore struck out at all the clubs, why don’t you settle in with a good book instead, such as Poole’s Paradise? I promise, you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll probably have a lot more fun.
ML Swift is a writer of Middle Grade, Young Adult, and Adult fiction, although he dabbles in many genres.
An Alzheimer’s caregiver for the past ten years, he has published several articles on The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, the largest online website catering to that community, and plans to write a novel about his experience in caregiving.
He resides in Florida with his dogs, Rameses and Buster, attempting to reclaim his side of the bed.