Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Travis Thrasher's Admission
Something deep and terrifying jerked him awake. Even before he opened his eyes, Jake knew he was confined, his head lodged against something unmovable. He couldn’t feel his arm tangled underneath him. His dry tongue rolled against cracked lips as he tried to clear his ragged throat. The first thing he saw was the tan faux-leather back of the car seat. Then, looking down on the floor, he saw a handgun wrapped in a muddy towel.
He sat up in the big backseat, the scent of reefer undeniable . . . Moving brought a wave of nausea and pain. His back was drenched in sweat. Rolling down the window, Jake breathed in and felt a throbbing in his left side . . . It felt like the time he’d been beaten to a pulp . . . just a month ago. But judging by . . . his total ignorance of where he was or what had happened . . . he realized this time could be worse.
He opened the car door and stumbled out, falling over and feeling the sting of blood rushing back into his legs . . . Something nagged at him. Something awful . . .
He stood up and looked around. Then he stared down at his shirt, his jeans, his shoes.
All were covered in blood . . .
So begins Travis Thrasher’s novel, Admission. (Published by Moody.)
Jake Rivers is in his last semester of college. He’s got a close-knit group of pals. If only he could win Alyssa Roberts’ heart. But he’s too “bad boy” for her, apparently. With his friends he drinks—a lot. Parties and can’t remember half of what he does. He doesn’t care about much. Certainly not the reputation of the college, or what’s expected of him by its administration. He just wants to get out of college and launch his life.
Then tragedy strikes.
That’s the past Jake, eleven years ago. Current Jake has mellowed. He no longer goes on wild drunks. He’s achieved a bit of spiritual understanding. But Jake is pulled back into his past when the old mysteries arise. What happened on that night he awoke in the car, all bloody? Which of his friends holds the key to the truth? Jake is forced to seek each of them out, hoping to fill the black hole of voided memory within him.
I really enjoyed this novel. Travis is an author I trust. I pick up a book by him knowing he’s going to handle the material well. I know his characters will be well drawn. And that he will surprise me in some writing aspect.
Admission interweaves Jake’s past and present stories, slowly unfolding what happened in college even as Jake pursues the answers. This is difficult to pull off well. I faced this same issue in writing Color the Sidewalk for Me (before I came over to the dark side of suspense for good). It’s a real challenge to base a current story on a traumatic past event, and unfold that current story without giving away the crisis scenes of the past. Both threads have to build in tension themselves, even as they interweave and increase each other’s tension. Where to place what scene, and how to build one upon another to the story’s height—that can take some serious shuffling. Travis makes this work, resulting in good pace.
Travis does something I haven’t seen before. He mixes POV for the same character. Jake’s present story is told in first person. His past story is told in third person. This creates an interesting dichotomy between the two Jakes. Told in third person, the Jake of the past feels further removed from the reader, recreating the inner sense the current Jake has about his past. He almost looks back at himself as someone else. He feels removed from that person. He’s wanted to forget—the little he could remember in the first place.
This effect worked. It wasn’t a broken writing “rule” just for sake of doing something different. It worked because it was driven by the story. I can imagine Travis sitting down to write this book and feeling in his gut the two very different ways that the present and past stories wanted to be told.
The other aspects that stood out in this novel were its characterization—Jake and his group of pals—and the dialogue. The latter does much to enrich the former. The dialogue is fresh, unpredictable, laced with non sequiturs. In short, the way highly partying college pals—and the men they would grow to be—would talk to each other.
This book is a good example of creating immediate character empathy—when the character may not be so easy to like. I found myself caring about what happened to the past Jake (who opens the book), even though in real life I have no tolerance for a partying drunk. In fact, you can’t turn me off much quicker. At times I wanted to throttle the guy. Make that many times. But I still cared. Referring to our character series, Jake was thrust into danger in the opening scene (#5). Second, he really loved Alyssa, who always seemed just beyond his reach. (#4—Wishing for something universally understood.) A part of him realized why he couldn’t have her—it was his own doggone fault. Yet he seemed powerless to change that. (#10—facing an inner struggle.)
I asked Travis about his approach to this book, and his writing in general. He gave some very thoughtful and enlightening answers. Over the next couple days I’m going to run his interview. He also talks about his "other job"--the full time one at Tyndale, where he works in Author Care.
Of course, you know what my first burning question was. Couldn’t help myself. “Travis, so just how much of that partying, drunken college Jake was you?” . . .