The Broken Road by Richard Paul Evans. (Inspirational Novel, May 2017).
This one is the opening of a fascinating new trilogy about one flawed man’s journey to redemption by New York Times #1 Best Selling Author Richard Paul Evans. Although this is my first exposure to the man’s work, he has won a number awards in the genres of Inspirational and Romance fiction. As Evans notes in the Acknowledgments piece in the back of the book, this new series arose from his conversations with an actual person—not exactly the main character in the novel, but loosely based on the actual man’s struggles to put things right in his own troubled and sinfully materialistic life. While not preachy, the work naturally lends itself to a subtle critique of the worst of money-focused elements within today’s America.
In an intriguing Prologue, the author provides a fictionalized account of his first encounter with his future protagonist in a Needles, California restaurant along the famed, yet now fragmented and seriously degraded Route 66.
Then his protagonist, one Charles James, takes up the first-person narrative of his story in Chapter One and thereafter. The decline of what was once in all seriousness called “America’s Mother Road” is at once an interesting sidelight and a metaphor for this character’s life—detailing his rise to financially dizzying (if ultimately unsatisfying and destructive) heights, his disillusionment and sudden fall, and in particular his fateful journey in search of the meaningful and joyous life he could’ve had all along.
James warns that readers will not like him much and in fact much of what he’s done as a fast-talking seller of get-rich-quick financial pipe-dreams and in his personal life are very worthy of censure. All too many of those he manipulated suffered profoundly as a result, even as he became unspeakably rich. But the fact that all this is told in flashback, as an honestly contrite figure looks back on the mess he’s made, tends to largely mitigate the hostility we’d otherwise feel.
Also, one inevitably develops intense sympathy for the life of extreme poverty and parental abuse that shaped his money-hungry worldview. We read happily of the incomplete yet promising developments of his early adult life. Key to this feel-good section is his relationship with Monica, the loving wife he foolishly neglected (and finally drove away) in his obsession to become a material success at any cost.
As the first book in a trilogy, the story here does not resolve all the issues that it raises. But it brings all the guilt-ridden psychological strain he faces to vivid life, with strange doomsday dreams settled around the famous roadway playing a key role. Soon, an especially heartbreaking tragedy triggered by his corrupted version of the American Dream pushes him past the breaking point. And a seemingly random series of events gives Charles the opportunity to start over.
For him, starting over will begin with a literal (as well as a spiritual) journey and at the end of this engrossing book he is about to start walking “The Broken Road” that is today’s Route 66.
The next installment, The Forgotten Road, will undoubtedly detail his actual sojourn from the highway’s Chicago beginning all the way to California and I look forward to reading it. My only regret is that I’ll have to wait a full year, till the Spring of 2018 to get a look at it. The third and concluding novel will likely follow yet another year later, where we see how it all turns out. I think I know what and who awaits Mr. James there, but Evans’s finely crafted writing makes me confident that I’ll find reading about it a distinct pleasure.