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by James M. Bates

Category: Fiction / General
284 pages; ISBN: 1931741239

Rating: 9/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Norman Goldman


One of the hallmarks of a good novel is an author’s effective creation of drama.
If the drama is devoid of any emotional charge, the story will fail to captivate its readers.

First time novelist James M. Bates’ novel, Flashes, is an excellent example of powerfully using drama to narrate a gripping story.

In this instance, the author pushes his principal character, Mickey, to the limit.
The charge is created from Mickey’s struggle squaring off against his adversaries out in the world and within himself.

The novel focuses on a painful and tormenting series of flashbacks concerning a youngster’s experiences growing up in the 1930s in New York City.
The story swirls with poignant detail recounting the hazards Mickey was forced to endure in order to survive. He is confronted with his father’s abusiveness, an employer who exploits him, intimidating peers, poverty, the abandonment by his mother at a very tender age, and his struggles against competing values.

Cleverly interwoven into the theme of the novel is Mickey’s recognition of the complexities of the world about him.
He is also aware of what a good life should be, as he remarks, “it was a good thing that sometimes I did have a better life for myself. That’s the way living should be-just like it was with those people, the Kelseys.”

To the reader, Mickey may be a hero, however, he does not consider himself one, but just lucky at being able to survive. He views life as a series of minuses and pluses, and you have to roll with the punches.

Minuses are painful, such as constantly moving from one apartment to the next without being able to make any real friends. Pluses are being liked by his peers and adults, treated with respect and kindness.

He also wonders how many kids grew up like himself- “doing those kind of things-lousy things-going like hell using up my nine lives-and only once in a while having some plus thing along with all the minuses.”
All of this makes for a good read, especially when it is narrated within the context of the intricacies of life.

A test of a good book is whether it will stand up to rereading.
Flashes passes the test admirably, as the author succeeds in making his principal character dynamic and believable. Perhaps, even to the extent of teasing the reader that Mickey is not a figment of the author’s imagination, but rather someone very close to him.

This review first appeared on:
BOOKPLEASURES where you will also find an interview with the author.


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