One Life or The LIves of Chester Knowles is the second excellent novel from the pen of Stephen Baum. At times poetic, at times playful and tongue-in-cheek, Baum opens the book point-blank with a reincarnation. Chester Knowles, whose funeral we observed in the opening chapter, wakes up inexplicably in a cabin in Sequoia National Park. He is in the body of another man, a rock&roll drummer by the name of Tony Santos. Chester soon picks up the loose threads of Tony’s life – as he tries to unravel the mysteries of his own. The book is off and running. It’s all “One Life,” a literary novel of the first order!
You, my readers are lucky people, I had been toying with publishing a post I had written on the left field (for me) topic of the new pop music video of Avril Lavigne, luckily for you good literature always gets in the way of the frivolous.
It seems like only yesterday when Mr Baum AKA Bumba sent me my first ever review opportunity Up In The Bronx and although this isn’t full circle by any means, I like to think of it as some humorous shape that offends and amuses in equal measure with its risqué look.
So what is it all about? It’s about life, second chances, starting over from wherever you are and being who you want to be, free to pursue your dreams. I suppose the only way to be truly objective about one’s own life and how you are perceived is to be completely on the outside looking in, Chester has this experience but for the reader self-examination starts pretty soon into the book as you observe the impact Chester leaves…and causes.
That may sound like a cop-out plot wise but the tale is an interesting recipe of philosophy and coming of age story…which is unusual (but perhaps shouldn’t be) for a bunch of adults. We follow Chester learning about his new life – well trying to fit into a life that is already ongoing – whilst simultaneously trying to keep in touch with his old (former) life. If you haven’t already gathered when you think about this book it can be rather mind bending.
Don’t mistake my lack of concrete plot explanation as some sort of enigmatic touch, I just think the ideas transcend the situations the characters find themselves in. One Life is a book that contains much in the way of speculation and musings but in a gently philosophical way…any book that begins with a funeral for the main character, which is a prelude to the main plot of said character is always going to capture the reader’s attention.
Some things are not to be understood, but their contemplation is nonetheless very pleasant.
Written in a relaxed style which keeps the tempo high, the action flits between a whole host of differing characters who are just trying to get along in life in their own way. Although the book is focused on Chester there is a lot of room for other characters to develop and they become just as rich and appreciated as the pages in your right hand transfer to your left.
Everybody in this book has a blatant flaw, none of them seem forced so as to fit the plot, the richly stratified characters each have their own back story and revelations about life as they see it. There is a satisfying well-rounded appeal to all and even the ones that I would have expected to dislike had their own charms making it hard to appreciate any single one above the rest but to love them all.
It’s all one heck of an existentialist entanglement, the layered personalities of the characters which we sometimes take for granted in other people when our own lives get in the way. The modern feel and the believability of the characters – who seem fairly static in their lives until Chester and his ways comes along – means the book has an atmosphere of the here and now, something close to the reader and their interactions with others. There is a message here of go, do, be, experience but learn with it..go your own way as Fleetwood Mac would have it, don’t over think life and its mysteries too much but be open to everything.