February 2008

Colleen Mondor

fiction

Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? By Jamie S. Rich

In his new novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, author Jamie S. Rich captures the reader's attention immediately when college student Julia Jimenez knocks on a mysterious door in Beijing and finds that she has found long missing author Percival Mendelssohn. Percy, of course, does not rush out the door to embrace Julia and congratulate her on her discovery, but Rich creates tension in that first chapter with Julia’s longing to find a man she has known only through his work and Percy’s uncontrollable need not to be found by anyone. I wanted to know what made Percy run away and I wanted to know why on earth Julia had gone halfway around the world to that Beijing neighborhood (determined grad student or not) on the mere chance that she might find him. Along the way he also shows the high price of fame, the challenge of literature and the overwhelming need humans have to find themselves, or more accurately the self they choose to be. It’s a wonderfully unique tale and something that would suit not only adult readers but appropriately witty and determined teenagers as well.

Percy was a literary wunderkind. Through flashbacks in the text, and reprinted interviews and articles about his career, Rich shows how Percy burst onto the literary scene in high school and launched into the stratosphere as he attended college. He and Iris, his longtime girlfriend and then wife, were like the Scott and Zelda of their day only Iris wasn’t crazy and Percy wasn’t depressed. They seemed to be on a path the likes of which is rarely seen in literary circles today. They were smart, urbane and gifted in an unparalleled way. People wanted to talk to them, especially beautiful women. And so Percy listened as the groupies gathered, and of course, he also took their adoration to heart and let it go straight to his head.

He cheated and it hurt the woman he loved. And then Iris killed herself and Percy ran away. That was the last anyone saw of him, heard of him, knew a single thing about him. His fans, all those readers who felt his words so dearly, never gave up hope that he might return to them, that he might recover from the loss of Iris. But Julia Jimenez took them one step further -- she went looking and she vowed not to quit.

Julia’s story, also told in flashbacks, is equally complex as Percy’s although in a much different way. She struggles with her family’s ideas of who she should be; who they expect she should be. Percy is a literary hero for the same reasons that many disaffected teens and college students will seek out authors who understand them -- they want some validation for the new independent direction in life they are seeking. Where the two collide head-on is when she meets the infamous woman who was with Percy the night Iris died. She is now a college professor and has made a career about knowing him and being there and although her part was never more than that of most fringe supporting actress, that is not what people think. Julia is an adoring believer in the beginning as well but then catches a glimpse of the unsavory neediness to have been part of Percy’s life. She decides that just talking about Percy Mendelssohn, just carrying around his books and analyzing his work and all that discussion about who he really was is clearly a colossal waste of her time. So putting clues together from those who searched before her, she ends up in Beijing and knocks on a door and when it is answered, she settles in to lay siege to the life that Percy has so carefully constructed. Julia decides that she will save him and what follows is the tenderest sort of love story that any one could read.

There were many things about this novel that I enjoyed but what really surprised me is that Rich was careful to make Iris a full and real part of the story. It would have been very easy to dismiss her as the long dead wife and only show her through Percy’s memories, but instead, in the flashback sequences, Iris is revealed as just as smart and vibrant as her husband. Making her a significant part of the story adds a depth to Percy’s loss, and explains a great deal about why he collapsed in the wake of her death.

The author also does an excellent job of showing how someone can come undone in his portrayal of Percy. This is a man who has thoroughly and totally cracked up even to the point of becoming a bit of a clichéd cat-person, and when he tries to communicate with Julia the only way he knows how -- by the choice of novels he leaves for her -- readers will find themselves understanding him in a deeply personal way. If you want to know me, really know me, then look at my bookshelves. This is something Rich understands and he shows it through Percy.

Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? is a look into the literary jet set, the sort of life that demands no regrets or apologies from the players who live in its limelight. It’s a unique story told in an undeniably cool way. Rich taps into a sensibility that makes one want to write enigmatic novels that grad students will endlessly argue about but likely never understand. He knows who we all want to be and shows us what that would be like. The fact that it isn’t a necessarily happy story is immaterial, it is still a true one and at its heart, a hopeful one. There is just something about Jamie S. Rich that makes him a writer to watch.

Have You Seen the Horizon Lately? by Jamie S. Rich
Oni Press
ISBN 978-1-932664-73-7
255 pages