Friday, 12 February 2016

Book Review: Bells Above Greens by David Xavier review of a book written
by an author whose family name starts with the letter

In general, I don’t review any self-published works, even less when they are coming-of-age or young adult fiction, but the letter X in my alphabet of writers was quite a hard nut to crack – above all because I wanted to read something by a non-Chinese author for a change. So despite me, I seized the opportunity to get myself a free copy of Bells Above Greens by David Xavier, a novel set in the early 1950s surrounding a confused young man who just returned from the Korean War where he lost his older brother as well as much admired role model and only family. Although he has not the slightest idea what to make of his life, he resumes his studies at the University of Notre Dame du Lac in Indiana and soon finds himself torn between two women, namely rebellious as well as shallow Liv and his late brother’s ambitious girlfriend Elle.

David Xavier was born in 1982. Otherwise, there is hardly any information at all available about the author himself, not in his books, nor on the internet except that he “quietly makes his living as an author”. As a self-publisher he so far brought out the novels Bottle Cap Sea (2013), Bells Above Greens (2013), The Rain Falls on Both (2013), Salts of the Cobbles (2014), Coins on the Curbs (2014), On Raspberry Lane (2014), Salomon, Parts I to IV (2015), and several short stories. David Xavier lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA, with his wife and his son.

Bells Above Greens is the story of nineteen-year-old Sam Conry starting with his return from the Korean War sometime in the early 1950s. He is the last soldier stepping from the bus because not having close family nor a girlfriend he doesn’t expect anybody to be there waiting for him. But then a beautiful young woman almost gives him a kiss because she mistakes him for somebody else. She is confused since his group was the last to return that day. To make her more comfortable Sam suggests having a drink in the cafeteria. So he learns that she is a journalism student at St. Mary’s College, that her name is Elle Quinn and that of all men the one she was waiting for was his older brother Peter. Now it falls to him to tell her that Peter was killed in Korea just a week earlier and he hates having to do so. Life goes on, though. Already in fall, Sam returns to the University of Notre Dame du Lac changing his major to journalism and hoping to meet Elle. He isn’t really interested in studying or student life altogether, but he has no idea what else to do. Moreover, he knows that it’s what his brother would have expected of him. On the campus everything reminds him of Peter, but he also makes new friends who know nothing of his past or his brother. Among them is Miles who roams the place with his camera and seems to be able to see through Sam as if he were his twin. Then there is Liv who just wants fun. He gets involved with her because in her company he can forget and relax. Nonetheless he sees Elle too regularly feeling uneasy about it because she is his late brother’s fiancée and he is increasingly attracted to her...

The narrating voice of Bells Above Greens is that of the protagonist Sam Conry himself, and yet, it appears rather detached, indifferent or even unconcerned considering that just having lost his admired brother and falling in love with Elle he must feel like on an emotional roller-coaster. Admittedly, he may be cool on the outside, but inside he must be in turmoil and it’s sort of odd to find so few traces of it in a first-person story. Also the other characters of the novel don’t show particular psychological depth being characterised above all by what they do or say. They are just very ordinary young people as they can and probably could always be found on any university campus. The almost strictly chronological plot is simple, but interesting thanks to the historical setting, the protagonist’s personal background and to some unexpected turns and twists. Personally, I would have appreciated if the author had given the political and social conditions in the early 1950s – Korean War, situation of ex-soldiers, women and gay – more attention instead of only scratching on the surface. On the other hand, he could have given sports less room (because it doesn’t interest me at all). Language and style of the novel are smooth and unpretentious, thus appropriate for an easy read like this.

All things considered, Bells Above Greens by David Xavier is a nice and entertaining read to enjoy after a hard day because it doesn’t require much attention and thought. Most people will probably consider it a relaxing book and love it as that. I liked the general idea of the story, but for me its realisation just wasn’t deep enough to leave a lasting impression or to give me the feeling that I seek most – to have learnt something new about the human soul, about life, about society, about history, about whatever. Despite all, it was a worthwhile read.

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