Evans’ Novel a ‘celebration…’

Evans’ novel a ‘celebration of what it’s like to live up here’
Glen YoungSpecial to the News-Review 14 hrs ago (0)
Evans’ novel a ‘celebration of what it’s like to live up here’
Randy Evans
Evans’ novel a ‘celebration of what it’s like to live up here’
Randy Evans says, “A lot of people come to Northern Michigan to rebuild their lives.”

This theme therefore is in the foreground of his new novel “When Strangers Meet at Devil’s Elbow.”

Evans brings together a cast of strangers, ranging from a lonely Vietnam veteran to a worried Egyptian surgeon and others in the spaces around Devil’s Elbow on the region’s Inland Waterway to demonstrate how the solitude, the silence and the serenity of Northern Michigan allow for such rebuilding.

When Liz Randall loses her quality control job at a Kalamazoo paperboard factory, she decides to head north to see her father Nick, the aging veteran whose comfortable home leans over the river where the elbow bends.

Liz also encounters Stretch, a twice-divorced Texan who settles near Nick, whom he quickly befriends, after discovering comfort food at the Moose Jaw Junction. And Zizi, the Egyptian surgeon who escapes a life of poverty and brutality thanks to an education and an invitation to practice in Petoskey.

“I decided to write a book about how these strangers come in and meld with local people,” Evans says of his first novel but third book.

His previous books include the memoir “Out of the Inferno: A Husband’s Passage Through Cancerland,” as well as the compilation “Red Sky Anthology: Reading Aloud in Northern Michigan.” The first several chapters of “When Strangers Meet” are included in the “Red Sky Anthology.”

Evans says he maintained the local geography in his story because “it’s a local book for local people.” He says he considered altering the landscape, but insists, “I want local people to relate to these places and their own experiences with these places,” he says.

And though there’s plenty of fiction in his “Red Sky Anthology,” Evans says the novel format provided a new appreciation for the genre, as well as a new joy. “It was like working in a big sandbox,” he says of writing fiction.

“I could write anything I wanted.” Evans understands, however, that the writing required purpose.

“Every word counts, every sentence must work, you can’t relax,” he says of choosing fiction.

Evans says once he determined to write the novel, the process demanded his full attention, but the story gained momentum on its own. The novel is about 85,000 words, but “after the first 10,000 words the novel started to write itself,” he explains.

What develops is a strong narrative arc turning Zizi and Nick, Stretch and Liz and others toward one another, where the characters find both new purpose as well as friends on whom to count.

Liz discovers again how Nick’s independence guides her to a new understanding as they both are also still healing from the loss of Nick’s wife and Liz’s mother to breast cancer.

Zizi falls over herself in every way when she firsts meets Nick at a benefit dinner, though she’s never far from the terrible experiences of her early years in Cairo. And though her life “now had a few cracks to let the loneliness in,” she is drawn to Nick.

The daughter of Japanese internees, Mikage runs a small diner in Kalamazoo, but laments when Liz leaves town as the two have grown close. Mikage is also running from a painful past.

In her diary from 2007 and beyond, Mikage recounts her backstory, explaining from May of that year, “‘Our marriage ended on a festive day,’” she writes about her brief marriage to Axel, a brutish German raised by his mother after his father, an SS officer, was mysteriously murdered in the aftermath of World War 2.

Their relationship heats up quickly, but cools soon after they leave California for Axel’s native Germany, where his demeanor turns mean. Mikage, like the others, is damaged but guarded.

The quiet and comical relationship between Stretch and Nick is also a key component in the story, as the two often spend long silent hours fishing or exploring together, one of the story’s high points is when the two hatch a plan to derail a couple backwoods meth dealers, Salt and Pepper.

By novel’s end, the many characters come apart and together in ways both expected and unpredictable, offering insights into both the healing processes of friendship, as well as the balm of the natural surroundings of Northern Michigan.

Evans says he thinks of the many ways the storylines intersect as “a celebration of what it’s like to live up here.”

In addition to the themes in his books, Evans is also creating other good will with his new book, donating a portion of the proceeds to the Petoskey Rotary Club’s Strive Program, which partners adult mentors with local high school students.

When Strangers Meet at Devil’s Elbow is locally at Local Flavors in Boyne City, Between the Covers in Harbor Springs, and McLean and Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, or through Evans’s website at http://www.randyevansauthor.com

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