by Jason Lewis
248 Pages ~ Sad Iron Press, 2011
Reviewed by Andi Stout
Nowhere Else To Go But Home: A Review of The Fourteenth Colony
Jason T. Lewis’ debut novel The Fourteenth Colony investigates the psyche of a small-town boy, washed out with nowhere else to go but home. The novel is set in a fictitious town, Vandalia, in West Virginia. It opens with main character, John Martin, coming back home to sort himself out after failing to break into the music business. When he gets there, he finds his family and hometown fractured and broken—a place and people he’d left behind more than a decade ago.
Lewis writes, “The school was for sale. A dingy, tilted realtor sign, pockmarked and faded, stood sentinel in the small patch of grass where we kids used to board the buses. ‘Price reduced!’ said the sign.”
This opening scene sets the tone and exposes the sense of otherness felt by those that come from a small-town used up and spat out. Lewis uses a matter-of-fact tone that lends a sense of ethos to the narrative voice. Much like poetry, he lets images do most of the narrative work and seems to use punctuation to meter beat and breath, which creates a staccato rhythm. Lewis eloquently captures the sense of hesitation and historical baggage passed down over generations. His sense of craft serves as reinforcement. Although fiction, Lewis’ work reads as truth and forces a sense of self-reflection in the reader.
Left with nothing but a guitar, a van, and a barstool at the VFW, John sits with his baggage talking to the bartender. Lewis writes, “I spun the whiskey glass on the bar top, clockwise, counter-clockwise, like I was trying to unlock the combination of the trap I was about to fall into. I failed. The whiskey burned going down and I chased it with half the beer. My shoulders loosened, the familiar sliding down. ‘I grew up here,’ I said. ‘Just came back to town.’ He nodded.”
Lewis employs simile and metaphor to familiarize the exotic and abstract, which builds, twists, and changes throughout the novel. He creates a sense of privileged to private information through his use of first person limited narration, pulling the audience in close. The Fourteenth Colony is more than coming of age; it’s coming to terms. Taking off the rose colored glasses, Lewis pinches every nerve. It’s honest, vulnerable—something all of us hope to get to on the page no matter what genre we choose.
As an added bonus, the novel is packaged with original music written and performed by Lewis. The music collection mimics the movement of the novel. It reinforces the tone and condenses the message. He builds an album persona which stacks on top of and is an extension to the narrative persona constructed in the novel. Lewis bends the rules of convention and delivers something that pushes new boundaries.
Jason T. Lewis studied and lives in Iowa, but he is a native West Virginian. And he does us proud with his debut novel. As a West Virginian and a reading writer, I’m left with a profound sense of appreciation for the complexity this author presents in his work. The Fourteenth Colony does not waste its time walking on eggshells; it grinds the pieces into the tread-stained pavement. It’s the deep breath before the dive. One walks away with a sense of understanding and empowerment. It’s a reminder that we have a voice; it matters, which is why I highly recommend this book.
Leave It Alone and '93 Mustang from the accompanying CD that comes with every book!
Andi Stout is a native West Virginian. She enjoys teaching composition to first year students at West Virginia University, and her favorite color is purple. Andi’s work was previously featured in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. One of her poems is currently on tour in So. Cal. with Nicelle Davis’ Poetry in Motion project. Recently, Scissor and Spackle published Andi’s poetry in their August issue.