Running To Graceland – John Slayton

Summary:

A coming-of-age in the very early ‘80’s, where three young men are each caught at a personal crossroads when a tense situation gets out of control.

Main Characters:

Jack: The narrator. We see everything through his eyes. He has a good family background, but like a lot of teenagers doesn’t realise it, and feels the need to rebel. He always wonders if things are better elsewhere, and is convinced they are.

Curtis: The group’s loose cannon, who’s had more than his share of bad breaks (including his abusive father). He has a deep reservoir of anger which has no outlet, leading him to make instant decisions without thinking of consequences.

Minor Characters:

Bruce: The “guy most likely to succeed”. He has his life already mapped out, and is wary of anything that would compromise him. He does seem to resent his future, but is acquiescent.

Becky: A drifter and a survivor, she is tough but kind-hearted, and as lost as the three boys.

Plot:

The story literally roars into life, as we find ourselves racing heading up Highway 41 from Tampa, pedal to the metal as three teenagers hurtle to escape their drab lives.

The occasion is the recent graduating (of Bruce & Jack) from High school – Curtis has yet a few weeks to go. They are an unlikely trio, and know that their time as a group is coming to an end.

They make it out to a tumbledown shack out in the forest, get a camp-fire going, and settle in with some beers. They notice a caravan parked across the way, and break in to get some supplies (and some mosquito repellent). Their crime is discovered the next morning, by the old couple who own the caravan and have chosen that day to spend some time in it, and the scene quickly escalates. The old man and Curtis struggle, the old man’s gun goes off, and he is left with a serious stomach wound.

The boys panic, and run. They let Bruce off at the exit to the Interstate, then Jack and Curtis decide to head for Canada. The relationship between the two goes through many different emotions, from rage, incredulity, to understanding. Jack realises how deep Curtis’ anger runs, and also knows he probably is the only one who can keep him, and any others they may meet along the way, safe.

Their direction changes when Jack dreams of Elvis (an important influence on both their lives), and the boys head to Graceland. Along the way, they meet a variety of characters, including Becky, and earn money to support themselves by various means, while always staying one step ahead of the law who are looking for them in connection with the shooting. They have also crossed State lines.

The connection between Jack and Elvis remains strong, with the dreams giving warnings and advice to Jack, but also comfort.

Things come to a head in Graceland, between the boys, and with the law. The boys have discovered a lot about themselves, and each other, and they are probably as close as they have ever been to anyone. This is proven in the actions they each take at Graceland, and by what is discovered much later on (don’t want to give away anything!!).

What I Liked:

  • Fast-paced story, which is maintained right the way through.
  • The link between actions and consequences is clearly made, but not overly moralistic. These kids are not thugs, or malicious, but caught in a situation that they don’t know how to get out of. You do feel a lot of sympathy for them, even for Curtis.
  • There is a certain innocence about the book, set as it is in the early 1980’s.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • I didn’t like the Deus Ex Machina effect of Elvis.

Overall:

This is a good read, a thought-provoking journey of discovery that we take with the characters. It is easy to get into the rhythm of the book, and it is a very believable story. There is no final absolution. The characters are still as lost at the end as they are at the start, but are changed and deepened, and that is the real story. Definitely recommended.

Acknowledgements:

Thank you to the author for sending me a physical copy of his book, in return for an honest and objective review.

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