By Scott Powers
The easy part is saying, “I’d love to read it.”
The hard part is when they come asking, “What did you think?”
When my uncle, Dan Powers, mentioned he was writing a novel, my reaction was the former. Then came the latter. In between, I worried a lot.
As a journalist and avid reader, I was excited to read his book. More than that, he’s family, and we’ve gotten somewhat close since my father passed away 14 years ago. We even traveled to Ireland together a few years back to do some genealogy research and share a few pints.
The flip side of that was my concern over the novel’s quality. I knew he was intelligent and could put together a few sentences as a former schoolteacher, but this was a novel. They’re a lot harder to land than grading someone’s essay. They require a way with words, creativity and clear storytelling. You hope a great novel never ends. You trash the awful ones quickly.
I had no idea upon which end of the spectrum his novel would fall. All I knew was I’d need to read the whole thing and then decide whether to tell the truth or lie to him. That potential dilemma gave me nightmares.
He ultimately made the decision easy on me. His novel, “How Long a Shadow,” was good — actually, really good. I even found myself somewhat jealous. It’s a book I don’t think I could have written, and that sort of hit a raw spot for me. Family or not, there’s a competitive streak in me I can’t extinguish. He had written the first great Powers novel.
That’s why I’m here today promoting it and making my return to the Irish American News, a publication I’ve loved for so long and first contributed to in 2005. Cliff Carlson was nice enough to allow me this space again. Slainte.
So, what is my uncle’s novel about? Well, it’s about Martians who invade Chicago, and the only way to get rid of them is to force-feed them Chicago-style pizza between 10:03 p.m.-10:17 p.m.
Which brings me to another item of my list of anxieties — writing a book review. How do you do a book justice, especially a family member’s, when explaining it to others? Soon, I’ll be the one asking him, “What did you think?”
His book is about family, the family you know and the one you don’t. His main character, Kevin Cullerton, searches for the missing pieces to his family history and ultimately uncovers things he never expected — about his family and himself. There were a few surprising turns I never saw coming, and they’re the ones that kept me reading beyond my bedtime. It’s that element of reading I love and hate. I love devouring a book and getting lost in it. I hate myself in the morning knowing I stayed up too late. I think I read this book in three sittings, and the second and third ones lasted hours.
The book does have a notable hook for this audience. It’s based in Chicago over many generations and includes some Irish genealogy. The book isn’t based on my uncle life, but it includes a number of topics he’s very knowledgeable on.
My main complaint with him and the book — and I’ve voiced this to him — is that it's self-published. He didn’t want to go through the process of attempting to get it made by a legitimate book publisher. I do get it. There’s a chance no one would have bitten on it. Great work isn’t always rewarded, especially in a timely fashion. One of my favorite books, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” was rejected time after time and was only published years after the author had died.
So, you won’t be seeing my uncle’s book at your local bookstore. But, thankfully, we live in a time where self-publishing isn’t a dead end. It’s just a matter of getting the word out and having people find it. It's available at NovelBayBooks.com, Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback or on Kindle.
I promise you won’t regret it. It’s worth your money and time. I told him I’d love to read his novel, and that ended up being the truth. I loved it, and I think you will too.
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By Scott Powers