Recently, Jeff Vande Zane, contacted me to see if I might be interested in reading his novel Detroit Muscle and offered to send me a PDF version. Since, I’d heard good things about this novel from several friends on Twitter, I was immediately game. In fact, the book was already on my “to read” shelf on goodreads.com. Since I can’t stand to read PDFs even on an e-reader, I bought a copy from Amazon for my kindle.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was a bit concerned that I might not identify with the protagonist in the story, Robby Cooper, because his story was so different from my own. However, I quickly knew that I would identify with Robby because after all addiction is addiction regardless of the user’s drug of choice. Yes, my drug of choice was Alcohol, and Robby’s was Oxy, but that became immaterial once I got into the story.
The book catalogues Robby’s first few weeks after he gets back to Detroit from a rehab facility. Vande Zande clearly knows Detroit well and includes details about the city and it’s landmarks that pull the reader into the scenes. A story about Detroit would not be complete if it didn’t feature a car and this one does, a 1968 Pontiac Firebird that Robby’s father had restored with his grandfather.
While the book is about an addict in recovery, I believe it will hold the attention of anyone because the writing is crisp and the plot pulls at your heartstrings. Themes of family, fatherhood, forgiveness and redemption run through the book and unless you are a heartless bastard, you’ll likely feel empathy for several of the characters.
Vande Zande accurately conveys the feelings frustration that an addict feels in early recovery. Often, people in early recovery just feel like they want to be alone because there’s just too much coming at them from all sides. Early in the book, there is a scene where Robby tells his mother that he is going out to see a movie, and she asks him if he wants company:
“Mom? Do you need something?” She looks at him. “What? No. I just came up to say hello.”
He nods. “Okay. Hello. I’m getting ready to go out, so I don’t have a lot of time.”
She takes a step back, touching her fingers along her cheek until they stop on her lips. “You’re going out?”
“Just to a movie.” She smiles. “Do you want company?”
He grins thinly. “No, not really.”
Vande Zande, Jeff (2016-08-01). Detroit Muscle (Kindle Locations 1108-1114). Whistling Shade Press. Kindle Edition.
I recall feeling overwhelmed by the smallest things early in my recovery. I remember times when I just needed to escape from other people. What struck me about this passage though was the fact that I had trouble relating to people early in my recovery. There was so much that was unsaid. Many folks in early recovery find it difficult to relate to others and difficult to manage their feelings because they haven’t actually felt anything in so long. I can imagine that Robby had an entire conversation in his head in this scene that wasn’t shared with the reader; I know that I certainly had conversations in my own head that no one knew about.
It’s important for a story to feel real.
As I mentioned there is a predominant theme of forgiveness and redemption in the book. And the fact is that forgiveness doesn’t always come, we aren’t always redeemed. Step Nine of the 12 Steps tells us that we are to make direct amends … wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them [those who we hurt] or others. What the 12 steps don’t tell us is that these amends aren’t always accepted.
The cold hard truth is that sometimes people just can’t accept our amends. Sometimes people cannot find it in their hearts to forgive us. And we need to accept that fact. Robby attempts to make several amends in the early parts of the book and some of these amends go rather poorly, as one might expect. I appreciated that this was not glossed over by the author. It would have been especially easy to write that all was forgiven, but that would likely have been untrue.
Some of us in recovery have a very hard time with the fact that we’ve made changes in our lives but that we are not forgiven by the people we harmed in our addictions. Late in the book, Robby’s grandfather (who is a recovering alcoholic) laments the fact that his sons will not forgive him.
“A man has to be forgiven, I think, if he’s really sorry and the things happened a long time ago. That’s all I wanted to have happen up here this weekend. Just some closure.”
Vande Zande, Jeff (2016-08-01). Detroit Muscle (Kindle Locations 2830-2831). Whistling Shade Press. Kindle Edition.
These are the words of a pained man, who wants desperately to make things right, but who cannot. There was simply too much damage caused by his drinking. Robby sagely tells his grandfather that he’s not owed anything, especially not forgiveness.
In the final few scenes of the book, one gets the sense though that Robby will be forgiven, not for everything, but for many things. He manages to make some things right, at very high costs to him personally. It’s clear that he has a lot of work left to do, but the end of the book feels hopeful.
As I mentioned, I believe that while this book resonated very strongly with me in part because I am in recovery, it will resonate with many people who are not in recovery. The story of a person overcoming incredible odds is almost always engaging, and Robby is overcoming some sizable odds.
I’d highly recommend giving this one a read.