A Good Man by Larry Baker is one of those books that came to me under a halo of synchronicity. There’ve been a few like that in my life. For example, Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar which literally fell off the bookshelf at my feet in a used bookstore days after I had seen an interview with Alice Walker in an anti-war documentary that really hit me. So I bought the book, and found in it a theme that was completely consistent with something going on in my own life at that moment.
“A Good Man” was sent to me by the publisher, Steve Semken of Ice Cube Books in North Libery, Iowa. The cover caught my eye. A grainy, colorful photo, blue sky and tawny sand, and a man holding the hand of a small boy, both walking away from the camera. But I set it aside, because we had a full schedule for the next couple of months. I’d learned that Steve publishes interesting books by articulate authors, so I wanted to do the interview… someday.
Then the coincidences began. First, we had a slot open up in just a week, due to miscommunications when an author switched publicists. We called Steve to see if one of his authors was available. Larry Baker was the first to respond. I picked up the book. As usual I started with the blurbs on the back cover, where I learned that A Good Man was, in part, an update of several Flannery O’Connor characters from “The River,” one of the stories in O’Connor’s seminal collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find. Which I had just bought, and just read, for the first time. I had just discovered Flannery O’Connor, and now here were some of her characters seeking me out.
I started to read. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was a novel, with photographs, interspersedwith excerpts from newspaper columns and blog posts, with a few poems feeding the story line. The chronology jumped around a bit, but not too much. It tackled big themes - politics, religion, 9/11, salvation – in the venue of a small town radio station. Soon the main character, Harry Ducharme, finds himself interviewing writers on his talk show. Coincidence number three.
But what really sold me onthis book was the interview I did on Writers’ Voices the same day I started reading it, with Hugh Ferrer, associate director of the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. This interview was based on a lecture I had heard Ferrer give on the Big Silent Dialogue – and the many ways that writers use and even hopefully steal material from those who came before them. I realized very quickly that Larry Baker was a living example of many of the techniques that Ferrer had divulged to our listeners. Like Baker says in his Notes to Readers, ” This is a work of fiction that sometimes relies on the words of writers other than me. That is an important point of the story. Read the book; you’ll understand.”
And I did.