Novel Review: The Dime, by Mark Paxson

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neon hear sign on shop entrance
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Mark Paxson is an independent self-published author, and, I might add, a champion of independent authors.

Trent Lewin, on the other hand, is completely unpublished in terms of novels. Too held up with the concept of traditional publishing to let it go, even though traditional avenues are not terribly receptive to Trent’s brand of weird and out-there, his book club fiction interspersed with the speculative while also grasping for some deeper meaning out there.

What’s it take for Trent Lewin to follow the example of Mark Paxson and simply get your writing out there? What stops some from doing this?

I have no answers. I’m just a simple guy. Stubborn and vaguely idiotic. Genuflecting upon the altar of powers that will have little to do with me.

But what is the swing and the miss in my process, compared to Mark’s? Well, it’s simple. He gets his books out there. I don’t. He’s a success, because he moves people with his writing. I’m a failure because I don’t take that step. I’m not judging myself, mind you. I’m just explaining my thought process.

When I read Mark’s “The Irrepairable Past”, it started a refresh on my love affair with reading. You know what some writers do? That I’m convinced of? They get bored with books and decide they’ll plug the gap in what’s out there. They’ll scratch that itch. That was me. Bored with so much conventional, predictable writing… for every normal author putting out the next X (know what that is? It’s Fifty Shades of Gray X The Canterbury Tales; that kind of smush between things already known that stands in for originality), there’s a few Anthony Doerr’s or Salman Rushdie’s or Margaret Atwood’s breaking new ground. But I digress. I stopped reading because I was bored with it, and wanted to create my own offerings. After I read “The Irrepairable Past”, that all changed for me, because that story crashed down on my shoulders and told me that to find unique, moving stories, I had only to look.

The Dime is Mark’s latest novel. I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say, it’s about family. A strange, displaced, happenstance family that comes together out of brokenness. What a word… brokenness. I find it interesting because I’m broken. I can admit that. I navigate to broken characters, especially the ones who rise above that damage. The Dime is full of that. Anonymous characters in our regular lives that we might never notice, but that are hurt in some way, and in other, more salient ways, find their victories. Would that we could all secure such victories! For example, would that a simple writer like myself actually take the plunge and publish a novel that I believe is worthy of being read, rather than being enmeshed in fear, indoctrinated in paralysis and unbelief.

I felt for the character in The Dime. I’ll tell you, there was one scene involving a hospital that filled me with so much dread for one of the main characters that I had to stop reading. I said, “Oh no, Mark. You didn’t. Please tell me you didn’t go there…” That palpable fear of caring for fictional characters is the art of writing, for me. The reality of the unreal, breathing down your neck and thrumming with your heartstrings… I got back into the story, and plowed through it, anxious to know how it all ended, once that dread had left me. The other characters… all broken, all damaged. All real, voices we need to hear, people we need to actually see.

I loved the book. There, I said it. It’s a strong study in characters, and in damage. What parts of us resonate with the vibration of a dark world, that place where we end up now and then, so difficult to extricate from your reality or your memories? And often, you end up in that dark world through no choice of your own. You didn’t put yourself there, it’s just where you found yourself. What do you do when you’re in the muck, and you had nothing to do with putting yourself there in the first place? When life just keeps tossing you epic curveballs? Read this book. Find out.

I’ll stack this book a notch below The Irrepairable Past, for a simple reason. The Irrepairable Past had a firm ending, and one that deeply surprised and delighted me. The Dime projects the ongoing lives of its main characters, all of whom have grown through the story, which is exactly the way it should be… we are watching them take that damage and convert it into a distance that still needs to be travelled. Somehow, though, I wanted more. As though the story weren’t quite finished. In particular, the arc of one main character really smarted, as he exited the story near the end on the backs of an action that I didn’t think was consistent with his character, or even the character and actions of the people who had most shoved him into that terribly dark world where he lived. I felt he deserved better, or more of a resolution. But this is a tiny quibble against the scope of the narrative, where broken people dance, and sometimes they sing.

It’s so funny. I don’t understand why Mark isn’t a mainstream writer, someone that many people read. His books deserve eyeballs. They deserve to be considered, and reviewed, and thought about. In this odd world in which we find ourselves, there apparently aren’t enough werewolves and vampires to mainstream his writing. I imagine he doesn’t really care, because he’s telling the stories that he sees through his eyes. And he’s allowing us to travel that distance with him, and that’s the point. I figure I know a storyteller when I see one, and that’s what Mark is.

I congratulate him on this book. It’s an intimate reflection of the things that don’t always go well in our lives; a portrait of the damages that are often inflicted on us. I think it’s an important story, worth reading and celebrating, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to give my highest regards to this novel… and to the storyteller.

And great books… yes, they are out there. We have only to look.

Dream hard, rage hard.

8 thoughts on “Novel Review: The Dime, by Mark Paxson

  1. So much of what you say here is so incredibly accurate about the how and the why of this story. Even your criticism about that one character acts at the end is spot on. Which will make the explanation for that if there is a second book about these characters all the more challenging.

    As for your comments about traditional publishing versus indie publishing, I do care. I would love to experience traditional publishing and the potential audience that could provide. I just don’t know how to crack the secret code though. I encourage you to consider indie if you don’t get any traction with traditional.

  2. I am grateful for the introduction to Mark Paxson that you gave me when you reviewed “The Irrepairable Past” and I will read “The Dime”. However, I take umbrage with your remark, ” He’s a success, because he moves people with his writing. I’m a failure because I don’t take that step.” I call “bullshit” my friend. Over the years of reading your pieces I have learned to set aside time to read them so that I can wallow in them. You have moved me to tears, to laughter, to horror and disgust. You have broken my heart, put a lump in my throat and literally taken my breath away. It is usually a surprise as to how I react because I never know where you are taking me, but believe me you move me.

    1. You are too good to me. Thank you, Michelle. I’m referring to my inability to get out of the stubborn insistence on publishing traditionally. I’m really, as I see it, more of a novel writer than a short story writer now. I have novels I want to publish, but I’ve not succeeded the way I want to do that as yet. It’s highly frustrating and beguiling. But I’m still at it.

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