November 21, 2002

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Book Review—
More than coming of age tale

By Joy Lackey

I Was So Much Older Then
By Ed Davis
Published by Disc-Us Books
(ISBN: 158444-2697)
Available in Yellow Springs at Epic Book Shop

I Was So Much Older Then, a novel by Ed Davis, a native son of West Virginia, resident of Yellow Springs and teacher of writing, literature and humanities, is a book that I could not put down. The cover describes it as a “coming of age” novel — and it is — but I believe that the book is so much more.

It’s a story about Danny Cahill, a sweet “old soul,” who, even as a child, when all around him is bleak and unpromising, never gives up hope.

This novel took me through layers of philosophy and psychology that resonated long after the reading. It’s one of those books you underline and never sell or trade but keep for future reference when your own life needs advice.

There are many memorable characters. One of the most complex is Danny’s mother, Anne, who falls apart, bit by bit, after Danny’s father abandons the family for good one Christmas Eve. Her mental and spiritual decline is shown by her wearing nothing but a slip most of the time (I pictured it being red). I suspect she had been hurt, not only by her husband Clay, but maybe growing up, or there may be a gene of depression that runs in the family. Danny — and the reader — has trouble figuring her out until, deep into the book, the boy sees her wearing “the face she wore in the kitchen when she stayed up all night in the dark, a face that no longer showed hurt because it was no longer alive.”

And then there’s Danny’s volatile relationship with the enigmatic boy-preacher turned-cynic Micah Plumly, through which Danny explores the conflicting feelings so many feel during teenage years: the ambiguity of our sexual orientation.

But young Danny is the book’s focus. In the course of the novel, his rich life experience shows him running the emotional gamut, from guilt for saving neither the prostitute Claire nor his mother from their personal tragedies; to love for his sixth-grade girlfriend Rebecca and, later in life, the beautiful, doomed Willa. Despite setbacks and losses, Danny, bolstered by both rock and roll and religion — and important friendships — prevails.

And don’t get the idea the book is all gloom and doom — it’s not. There are lots of funny and happy events scattered throughout the book to balance the sadness. The funeral scene is funny and touching, and the ride to the cemetery is hilarious. And when it seems Danny, with the help of his best friend Micah, will get a full college scholarship, he felt like “the world’s fluffiest buttermilk biscuit and Cantwell College was gonna be his sausage gravy.”

There’s page-turning suspense all through the book. My copy now looks like it’s been read by at least 45 people.

I really liked Danny’s resolution, which occurs in a spooky old mansion where he confronts his ghosts, past and present, literal and metaphorical. Without giving away the conclusion, I’ll say only that I found it extremely satisfying.

There are some books you just can’t scan even if life demands that you put them down at times. You have to appreciate each word and sentence. I Was So Much Older Then is one of those books.