by Doug Cooper
Published by Greenleaf Book Group Press
4.5 / 5
They (whoever “they” are) say that teaching is a calling. I’m sure “they” would also say that learning is a calling.
I mean, let’s face it. No one really enjoys learning life’s tough lessons, do they?
In the case of Brad Shepherd, those lessons come especially brutally, even if most of that brutality is self-inflicted.
Brad has been forced to take a “leave of absence” from his job as a middle school math teacher (oh, the horror … faithful readers, indulge me with this aside: surely one of Dante’s rings of hell is teaching middle school math), and in an act of delayed adolescence / screw you, Mom and Dad / you want a leave of absence, I will give you a leave of absence, Brad hits the road to Put-in-Bay, Ohio, an island in the middle of Lake Erie.
Brad’s parents think he’s running away from his problems, and perhaps he is. But really, it’s more that Brad is running to himself, whomever that may be.
Once on the island, he meets a motley crew of drug dealers, hot women, bisexuals, drunk bartenders, and philosophical guitar players. Brad avails himself of each and every one, frequently winding up in a drug haze that disguises the pain he feels. In the book’s Q&A, Doug Cooper draws a parallel between Outside In and Catcher in the Rye, and the comparisons are strong indeed when it comes to Brad’s drug and alcohol usage. At one point, a character points out to him that his mistress is cocaine, a fact Brad refutes.
But it’s true. Brad just isn’t ready to face it at that point.
(When he is, Cooper astutely creates the struggle Brad undergoes to regain his sobriety as one that is challenging, full of fits and starts.)
Through the drugs, booze, and sex, Brad remains a man in search of his identity. Who is he if he can’t teach? Can he still teach? Does he even want to?
Just as his students must do, Brad must learn his lessons, often the hardest way possible. He needs to learn to trust his heart, both romantically and intellectually, and he has to make peace with his parents. He also needs to learn to be his own man and not the mistress of pharmaceuticals and alcohol, as the case may be.
Not to make this novel sound bleak. It is not at all. There are some richly comic moments, and Cooper knows when we need them. Just when Brad begins to feel overwhelmed, something funny occurs to give us a break from Brad’s overwhelming sadness. Yes, he appears happy, but he, like Holden Caulfield, is lost. Whereas Holden tries to find himself in New York City, though, Brad searches in Put-in-Bay.
It is not accidental, I am sure, that Brad’s last name is Shepherd. He is the guide and comfort to others, just as he needs guidance and comfort. He’s a teacher at heart, and there are times he teaches his new friends. Like his middle schoolers, his friends occasionally don’t listen to him; they sometimes take precarious, threatening risks.
And then the teacher becomes the student, and in those moments, we wish the best for Brad Shepherd.
You will not want to say goodbye to him, but Cooper knows how to end Brad’s story. The best writers don’t give readers what they want, they give readers what they need.
Author’s page: http://bycooper.com/
To win a hard copy of Outside In, enter through the Rafflecopter below.