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Posted October 10, 2005
Terrific reading experience
In the early pages of Josh Emmons' splendid first novel, THE LOSS OF LEON MEED, the author notes that dreams and the imagination, 'like all engines of terror and transcendence, can do anything,' and with those words guides the reader into this delectable story. The book explores the ambiguous conjunction of reality and the imagination through the intertwined experiences of a cast of about a dozen main characters. It is an audacious and spellbinding debut. The mysterious Leon Meed, who appears and disappears throughout the novel, is perplexed by his journey into, and out of, the lives of the townspeople of Eureka, California, just as those residents are puzzled by Leon's sudden appearances. This gives the book a fascinating structure and provides for moments that are both comic and evocative as Emmons explores traditional themes of loss, love, redemption, and forgiveness. Emmons is a solid novelist--and, if he ever turns his hand to short fiction or screen plays, he'll prove to be an excellent writer in those genres as well. He has a wonderful gift for characterization, dialogue, and sensory description. The cast of characters is varied, by age, gender, race, national origin, and personal experience. He is equally adept, for instance, at creating a young Korean who longs for love and wants to start his own restaurant, a black man who is a recovering alcoholic, and a middle-aged female school teacher whose marriage is dissolving. Emmons is also capable of making the small town of Eureka into one of the novel's main characters. I won't give away the story. It is too good to spoil. Emmons is in firm control of this material, but one of the things I most admire about the book is that the author doesn't tie things up neatly. This is a novel about mysteries, about the important things in life that are hardest to grasp. The book's emotional and beautifully written epilogue--perhaps the most affecting passage in the book--leaves the reader with a deep appreciation for the power of the unknown. This is a terrific book. Don't miss it.
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