Indie Groundbreaking Book: Ways of Leaving
Heartbreaking Novel Functions as a Character Study into a Fractured Soul
“Just a bit more pressure on the accelerator and a snap of his wrist, a minimal effort, and he’d career across the median and into the gleaming chrome grille of a fully loaded Kenworth.” So begins Ways of Leaving, an outstanding and devastating new novel by Grant Jarrett, and Independent Publisher’s “Indie Groundbreaking Book” for the month of September.
In that opening sentence, Jarrett is climbing into the mind of Chase Stoller, the fractured, flawed, and fully realized character at the center of his novel. Stoller is driving toward home in those scenes, only instead of the anticipation and excitement that many of us feel when returning to the stomping grounds of our youth, Stoller only feels pain, fear, resentment, and reservation. He’s driving home to bury his estranged father, to be reprimanded by a brother who can’t empathize with anyone else’s pain, and to be reminded of his fiercely painful childhood. He’s also doing it without his wife, who has filed for divorce, and with more than his fair share of baggage.
Stoller is addicted to alcohol, obsessed with sex, and has a fiery temper that is simultaneously masked and fueled by his dark, sarcastic sense of humor. He’s also recently been fired from his job as a journalist, turning his entire odyssey into a sort of midlife crisis that plays out against the backdrop of where he spent his younger days. It’s a backdrop of familiar bars, old memories, and too many ex-girlfriends, and one that makes it virtually impossible for him to move forward with his life instead of regressing back into his old bad habits.
But despite his addictions and despite the violent, cruel encounters he often finds himself in after dark—while wandering the bars, streets, and hotel rooms of his home town in a drunken haze—we still see hints that Stoller is a good man. He’s not an anti-hero in the classic sense, though his bar fights, profane language, and reckless disrespect for the people in his life might convince some readers otherwise. Instead, he’s a good guy who was dealt a bad hand, a hand with parents who didn’t understand him or didn’t love him enough, and with a brother seemingly incapable of helping him recover from his fractured marriage. He hides his pain in sarcasm, self-medicates with booze, and tries to forget about his past relationships by finding refuge in other women. It never works.
But as Ways of Leaving progresses, Jarrett peels back the layers of Stoller’s character in surprising and resonant ways, finding the sides of him that readers will be able to sympathize with. It’s incredibly poignant, for example, when Stoller finds himself wanting to protect his niece and nephew, whether by telling them a comforting bedtime story and falling asleep by their side on the night their grandfather passes away, or by eating every serving of Brussels sprouts on the dinner table so that they don’t have to. Stoller also sees how his brother’s self-centeredness could someday make his children as bitter toward their father as Stoller feels toward his parents, and steps in to try to prevent a repetition of history.
The core of Ways of Leaving, though, is Stoller’s relationship with his sister Hannah, the one person who ever understood him in a childhood house filled with anger and self-righteousness. When Chase comes back to town, his sister, the person who once loved him and protected him most, the person who kept him sane, is in a mental institution, catatonic from the drugs she’s being given. When Hannah tries to take her own life, Chase takes it upon himself to save her and protect her as she once protected him. The results are the emotional cornerstones of Ways of Leaving, and they are as heartbreaking as anything you will read in a novel this year.
Stories like this, about characters who return to their childhood hometowns and are forced to face the many demons of their past, are not necessarily unusual or unique. The Kirkus review for Ways of Leaving mentioned the films Garden State and Young Adult as comparable works, and both of those parallels are entirely apt. What ultimately makes Ways of Leaving groundbreaking, though, is how thoroughly Jarrett captures Chase Stoller on the page. This isn’t a character: it’s a fully drawn human being, with all of his flaws and best qualities on full display, often at the same time. Jarrett masterfully conveys Stoller’s story, switching seamlessly between artfully assembled prose and stream-of-consciousness ramblings to get inside his head and give readers a front-row seat to understand his journey. It’s a master class of fiction writing, and it marks Jarrett as an author well worth watching in the future.
Interested in delving into the rich and real world of Ways of Leaving? The book is available from Amazon.com in both physical and Kindle formats.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.