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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ordinary lives and everyday people: a rich source for authors of fiction

The Wrong Bus, An Urban Christmas Story by John Noel Hampton - 5 Stars

I have been exploring a lot of different literary genres lately and I noticed that paranormal thrillers and romance, mysteries, science-fiction, and fantasy seem to be among the most popular ones these days. Whether you walk into an ordinary brick-and-mortar bookstore or peruse the online blogs, trolls, vampires, and werewolves glare or growl at you from every corner. You can’t help but wonder if the lives of “normal,” everyday human beings are no longer fit topics for literature.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those genres myself. I love a good mystery; I like a well-written fantasy and paranormal tale. But every once in a while, I long for an interesting book about Mr. Everyman and Mrs. Everywoman who deal with their everyday lives without interference by ghosts, witches, and paranormal happenings. And then I stumbled upon the story by John Noel Hampton, The Wrong Bus, An Urban Christmas Story.

The Wrong Bus takes place in Los Angeles, in both a middle-class environment and in the less well-to-do section of South Central. It depicts a few days in the lives of flawed but lovable characters. The middle-class, elderly white woman, Ida, is a good-hearted, somewhat naive person who doesn’t want to accept the fact that her only son was killed in Vietnam. Her African-American housekeeper and best friend, Madeline, has her own share of shattered dreams. Junior, a young black man, works hard and dreams of becoming a medical doctor in order to help his grandmother and escape the dreary environment of his upbringing and his dysfunctional mother. Maria, a Latin woman, who was fired from her job, turns to stealing in her desperation. Then there are neighbors, friends, cops, and criminals.

A series of coincidences, such as missing the right bus stop, brings these unlikely people together and sets in a motion a string of misunderstandings, wrong turns, false moves as well as lucky encounters. The story leads up to Christmas, but Christmas for the characters doesn’t mean a bunch of expensive presents or even an end to their problems. But it brings them closer to the true spirit of Christmas: love and compassion.

The Wrong Bus is a moving tale without being sentimental. The language is stark, interspersed with beautiful images and vivid descriptions. The magic is not conjured up by fairies, hobgoblins, witches, or trolls. It is created by the characters’ feelings, by moments of beauty in a rough environment. These people aren’t fantasy heroes; they struggle with their selfish desires, they are torn between wanting to take the easy way out of a situation and doing what is right. Yet they do find the courage to step outside their comfort zone, to take risks in order to help someone else.

The sign of a good story for me is one that I feel like reading over and over again and always discover something new. The Wrong Bus is such a story. I can only recommend it and I look forward to reading more by the same author.

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