I went through some of the past reviews, looking for ideas of books to read and added them all to my library queue. I picked up the first batch of these two days ago, with the idea that I could mix these with the Steve Harvey and other assorted riff-raff that I picked up in my pile of won books. This effort to keep my mind nimble has paid off, though Straight Talk, No Chaser must have tapped me more than I thought, because I devoured One Day in less than a single day and then went on to complete American on Purpose by the very next morning.
First off, I apologize on any mistakes in this review. I’ve got a bit of a bug and probably shouldn’t sit down and start writing something after taking a hit of codeine-infused cough medicine, but there you go. I’m nothing if not dedicated. Also, kudos to Krista for her excellent review of One Day – it led me to picking up the book for myself. Thanks to TheOutlawJosie for her review of American on Purpose – I had been meaning to pick up the book as I love Ferguson on The Late Late Show but had never gotten around to doing it until now with your reminder. I will try to not give too many spoilers away in this review, but seriously, if you’re reading a review, you’re going to be spoiled on something, even if it’s just the names of the characters in the book. So you are forewarned.
I appreciated the character-driven aspect of the novel. The gimmick of revisiting the same two characters – Dexter and Emma – on the same day each year, over a span of twenty years, allows for character development that would be otherwise unlikely in a modest… well, um, I just looked up the pages and I suppose 400+ isn’t so modest, but it certainly didn’t seem like it was that long when I read it. I don’t know if I should herald that as a good sign of how engrossing the book is or wonder if I was blacking out on my cough medication. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the book. Anyway, the depth of the characters and change they experience as they move from young adulthood to middle-age is fantastic.
Emma changes from the college non-activist (you know the sort – passionate about a cause, but other than calling a few people a fascist doesn’t really make their voice heard on anything) to eventually realizing her life ambitions, and feels very real and authentic. She may make bad choices at times, but those choices only add depth to her character. Dexter is another story. The changes that he experiences over the course of the twenty years are real enough, but it is hard to sympathize with a drunk asshole or a recovering drunk that is still an asshole. But the frustration I had as a reader was more a symptom of wanting to knock some sense into him than feeling disconnected from the novel.
One Day is a fantastic long-term look at the friendship of two people and their lives over a twenty year span. Although it is a story of the friendship of a boy and girl who find each other attractive, it is in no way formulaic or obvious. I was sucked into the novel and I enjoyed not knowing where it would go next. I’d definitely recommend it to others.
I think American on Purpose was an excellent follow-up to One Day. Craig Ferguson was essentially a working-class Dexter for the better part of his life. And what makes his stories of his alcoholic years bearable, and even charming at times, is that he is coming from a place of reflection and redemption. While One Day highlighted the voice of an alcoholic under the curse of his disease, American on Purpose gives the story of atonement and rebirth from the sheer destruction that addiction can wreck upon a life. This, ultimately, is what makes the book work, because as a reader you know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is just a matter of finding out when the change occurs in Ferguson’s life.
More than that, the book shows that with drive and ambition, you can pull yourself up by the bootstraps and follow the dreams that you may not know you even had, and by doing so, make a spectacular success of yourself. This plays into the American Dream™ and Ferguson’s take on all things Americana is particularly inspiring. The book is called, after all, American on Purpose, and though he details the trials of his addiction to alcohol, the underlying theme is Ferguson’s multiculturalism and the meaning he finds in being Scottish while pursuing American citizenship. If you’re an American reading this book and don’t feel more patriotic by its end, then you’re a dirty commie.
I highly recommend American on Purpose – I regret only being able to give two paragraphs of my attention to it in this review, but the codeine has finally kicked in and I’ve been typoing words left and right (somehow purpose always becomes purse) so I think it’s time to give the reviews a rest and get a bit of it myself.