If the relationship of father to son could really be reduced to biology, the whole earth would blaze with the glory of fathers and sons.
Benji is the narrator for Into This River I Drown.
You’re not going to like him very much, at least at first.
Strange thing for an author to say about their own creation, right? Yeah, I am aware of that. But I am also aware what happens in the book, where it ends up, the secrets it has waiting for you. The twists. The turns. The moments where you’ll want to pull your hair out. The moments where you’ll think I can’t believe TJ just did that! The tears. The heartbreak. One specific moment I am pretty sure will have people calling for my tar and feathering. And ultimately, a sunrise.
But before all that happens, you’ll need to know Benji.
Benji, Benji, Benji. What can I tell you about him?
As most of you know, I’ve kept the plot of this book under wraps, going so far as to threaten any and all who’ve read it so far with bodily harm lest they attempt to release any details. I have not provided any excerpts, nor have I really given the names of the characters involved aside from the leads. I think I mentioned the character of Nina at one point, long ago, in one of my ramblings, only because she is such an integral part of the book. She is Benji’s aunt. She has Down Syndrome. She is often the voice of reason in all the dark. And she is my favorite character out of the whole book (though the character of Abe runs a close second; he’s an elderly dude who takes no shit from anyone).
Why all the secrecy?
I could tell you that it’s because of those twists and turns I mentioned before. That would be a good reason. This book shot off in directions even I didn’t see coming, and I think there will be plenty of jaws dropped.
I could tell you that it’s because I like to tease. That is certainly true.
I could tell you it’s because I’ve never attempted a novel such as this and I want everyone to experience it equally for the first time at the same time. That is true, yes, but it’s not the real reason.
The real reason is because this book is an ode to my father.
But Tj! you ask. What does that have to do with Benji and secrets?
Back in May 2012, I wrote a longish post about my father who had died when was younger. You can read the post here if you haven’t already by clicking http://tjklunebooks.blogspot.com/2012/05/thoughts-on-grief-and-drowing-in-river.html Fair warning, it is a tad maudlin, but that is where I was at when writing this book.
To say Into This River I Drown tore me into tiny little pieces would be something of an understatement. I wrote obsessively on this, to the point where I’d only be getting an hour or two of sleep a night, going to work fifty hours a week, and then writing again until the wee hours of the morning. It was cathartic, I guess, at least as the end approached. The process leading up to the end felt like I was ripping open old wounds for no reason at all but just to do them. And I learned something about grief, which River is centered around. Naturally, after substantial loss like that of a parent or loved one, grief will follow. It’s meant to. It’s how we as humans react. Without grief, we would just be cold shells.
Grief is necessary.
Grief is predictable.
Grief is expected.
But, if left to fester too long, grief can become something else entirely.
It can be selfish.
It can be consuming.
It can become obsessive.
And, above all else, it can cause you to drown.
And this is why some may not like Benji. You might even hate him, for a time. You see, he’s let himself wallow in grief. He’s become selfish and consumed and obsessed. He’s dark and mournful. He’s drowning metaphorically, much like his father did physically. Whether or not you can relate to Benji, in my opinion, is largely based upon if you have ever known the obsessiveness of grief. If you’ve let it get to the tipping point where it’s all you know. If you’ve been there, you know there’s a moment where a very clear choice will come to you that you can either stop drowning, or you can let the water close over your head. If you’ve never been there, I am sure, at the very least, you can still imagine what it is like.
Benji is at this tipping point the moment the novel opens. It’s been five years since Big Eddie died, and he’s at this tipping point. He’s obsessed with the secrets of his father, the death that was called an accident, the little town he lives in that knows more that it shows on its pretty cobbled streets. I grew up in a small town. I know how secrets work in those little forgotten places.
But know that not all is dark: this is a love story after all. But there are more kinds of love then one boy for another, though it is there between Benji and the mysterious Cal. This is also about the love one has for friends. Family. The Trio, Benji’s aunts. His mother. His friend Abe, who was Big Eddie’s best friend.
Above all else though, this book is about one man’s love for his father. That is something I know very dearly, even though my father is gone. This book was my way of telling my father how much I miss him, how much has happened in my world since he’s been gone. Mixed into the narrative of River are a few real life memories that I have of my dad, the ones that I can remember most dearly. Other memories are ones that I would like to think I could have had had my father not died when his pickup crashed into the back of an abandoned tractor trailer in the middle of the woods.
This book is for my father, because above all else, I am my father’s son.
Is there humor, though? Of course. I can’t write a full book without interjecting that side of me as well. Those moments help to chase away the shadows that come with obsessive grief. 400 pages of nothing but moping would probably drive even the most hardcore fan insane. You’ll never look at Lucky Charms the same way, to be sure.
There is hope, too. How can there not be? Benji may be at his tipping point, and the waters may be closing over his head, but there’s still a chance. A chance that he could be pulled away from the river. That, above all else, is wanted I to wanted to write about: hope. We are nothing without it. We can be nothing unless it is there. Unless there is that chance.
This is also a complete story with a beginning, middle, and definitive ending. There will not be a sequel to this book. But, there could be a chance for a…nah. I won’t finish that. You’ll just have to find out for yourself.
Out of everything I’ve written, I am most proud of this story. This is my definitive book on family, a subject I’ve seemed to have carved a bit of a niche for myself in this genre. This is a way for you to meet my dad, as I remember him, and as I would have hoped things could have been like. It’ll be a long road, a tough road, but in the end, I hope you’ll think it’s worth it, because I promise you the sun will rise.
I’ll end this with the dedication that is at the beginning of the Into This River I Drown. It summarizes everything I could ever hope to say about this story. I’ll see you all on the other side with a post-release blog that will include a short story, one that I believe people are going to be clamoring for by the time they finish River. Remember: things aren’t always what they seem and the rabbit hole goes much further than you could ever have imagined.
Into This River I Drown Dedication:
For my father,
John Edward Irwin
May 27, 1955—June 27, 1987
For all the things I can remember.
For all the things I have forgotten.
For all the things I never got the chance to say.
For all the things I'll say when I see you again.
Every word that follows is for you.