What do a New York City butcher, medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer and the Vietnam War have in common? They all served as creative fodder for Jason Marks' powerful and imaginative new novel, Looking for Canterbury. In an impressive literary feat, Marks has successfully applied the premise of an Old English classic to a modern-day tale and produced one of the most brilliant and insightful books you will ever read.
As Looking for Canterbury begins, Vietnam veteran Harry Baylor and six war-scarred friends have lost control of their lives. Tormented by emotions spawned by horrific experiences in Vietnam, they have battled for years to purge the visions that haunt them and move on with their lives. Conventional therapy hasn't worked and they're quickly realizing that their homegrown support group is proving futile as well. Their destinies seem clear; they will endure mental torture for the rest of their lives. That is unless Harry Baylor has anything to say about it.
Armed with half his life savings to finance his plan, Baylor, an enthusiastic fan of Geoffrey Chaucer, proposes that the group recreate the story-telling journey detailed in the poet's Canterbury Tales in New York's Central Park, essentially transforming them from a troop of soldiers to a troupe of actors. The challenge for each of them is to tell a tale that will distract the others from their worries. The only rule: the stories can have nothing to do with Vietnam. Sounds easy, but it proves more difficult - and dangerous - than they had ever imagined. As the trip progresses, the group comes to the painful realization that the problems they hoped to leave behind have, in fact, come along to spoil the ride. The mental reprieve they desperately need is in jeopardy, but they're not giving up. They've got nothing to lose but the remains of their sanity.
Looking for Canterbury takes readers on a thrilling, sometimes painful, adventure into the human psyche. Thanks to Marks' profound ability to engage readers in the lives of his characters, you find yourself experiencing first-hand the acute emotions that surface during their journey. Filled with expertly crafted hairpin turns, Looking for Canterbury keeps you wonderfully off balance. Within pages, you find yourself laughing at a humorous tale, shocked by an unexpected emotional breakdown, anxiously anticipating a character's complete disintegration, then laughing again as you're suddenly pulled back from the edge of emotional chaos. Just as Canterbury's characters, you will find yourself enjoying a leisurely stroll through the park basking in rich scenery and heartwarming comradery while simultaneously running a mental race against the subconscious at breakneck speed.
With its complex characters, fascinating literary allusion, rich description and gripping psychological insight, Marks' Looking for Canterbury is a 21st century classic, one you won't want to miss.
Jason Marks is also the author of Around the World in 72 Days (Sterling House), the novel, Chiaroscuro, and the biographical, 12 Who Made It Big as well as the co-author of the novel, Two Souls, One Body (Fawcett Gold Medal). He is professor emeritus of English and Journalism at Baruch College, City University of New York.
The review of this Book prepared by Scott Buhrmaster