(Review copy provided by author.)
Leatherstone is David Patrick Pabian’s first novel, but he is no stranger to writing. An accomplished screenwriter and ghostwriter, Mr. Pabian’s work is top-notch. However, just because you can write, doesn’t necessarily mean you can tell a story.
Let me assure you, Mr. Pabian can tell a story.
Leatherstone begins with a simple excerpt. A snippet of a desperate story. Like a flash of lightning, Leatherstone’s introduction sears the man’s story into our minds and sets the tone for the book, promising a grisly tale.
JASPER LEATHERSTONE HAD ESCAPED. A dragnet was out for him, its dogs howling through the night. At the edge of a frozen river he could hear them coming and took a chance only the most desperate or insane would. With superhuman strength he hurled a boulder through the ice and plunged in after it. His body shocked past feeling by the cold, he swam like some polar animal under the ice, and when his lungs gave out he took his knife and broke through the underside to gulp down frozen air. But the current grabbed him and tore him downstream, shattering him on rocks, dragging him to the bottom, flinging him up to crack his head on the ice ceiling, and slamming him against the submerged root of a tree. He pulled himself along the root, though the current did its best to tear him away. Smashing his fists through the ice at the shore, he drove the knife into the tree, pulled himself through the jagged break and fell on the black earth, twisting and hissing like a reptile. When the police and dogs got to the river three miles back, the trail was lost. ~ from Leatherstone by David Pabian.
Leatherstone is about John Garrett, or Champ. A boy at the edge of manhood whose life is anything but perfect. He lives in anywhere-middle-town-America on the wrong side of the tracks. He’s a bit of nerd. His older sister is mentally disabled. And to top it off, his father is a godless man. Set in the mid-1960′s or so, all these characteristics make Champ one of the least popular kids at school. When his mother dies and his uncle moves in to help take care of Champ and his sister, things only get worse. Champ’s father is away more than not, his uncle is drunk more than he is sober, and Champ gets it into this head that he can resurrect the dead – just like in the Frankenstein movies he sees on TV.
With a couple of older boys (more interested in getting into Champ’s sister’s panties than him), Champ begins experimenting on animals. Though the two older boys chide and ridicule him at his failed attempts, Champs keeps trying. Even after they abandon him and he finds a dead man out in the forest near his home, he keeps trying.
And then he succeeds.
Champ thinks he has created a being with no history. With no past to muddy their relationship, Champ and his newly created friend, Frank, begin a surreal and awkward relationship full of poignant moments, hard truths of life, and a tension ready to crack. Knowing the tale of Mary Shelley‘s original Frankenstein, the reader cringes at the nativity of youth that Champ insists on maintaining, as any kid his age would. When it becomes clear to him that Frank might have a violent past, he still clings to a bright future, a future where he and Frank can live in an alternate world where their relationship would be normal.
But resurrecting a dead man is anything but normal, and Champ’s life spirals out of control. He loses his uncle, his sister, and then the only friend and hero he ever had.
Mr. Pabian leaves us with a searing portrait of a bizarre life that smacks of familiarity. The reader can easily relate to Champ and his need for acceptance among his peers. We understand his interest in resurrecting the dead stemmed from the anguish he must have felt when his mother died. And we even begin to hope that Champ and Frank’s friendship has a chance. They both want it so badly to work, but in the end, it just doesn’t. It can’t.
Told in the first-person narrative, Leatherstone reads like a personal essay, seamlessly weaving the thoughts of the old Champ re-telling the story, and the action and thoughts of the pre-teen Champ. Mr. Pabian’s prose is easy to read and, in places, draw lifelike scenes that will be with me for some time. The author also has a poetic tendency that gives a lyrical slant to the morbid.
Though Leatherstone remains true to the general story arc of the Frankenstein tale, Champ does seem to channel a progressive political and atheist agenda. Though some readers might be put off by that, I think that Champ’s observations of what corporations had done to his small town and his thoughts on religious statements made by others was completely in line with his upbringing and his character. Champ happens to be a progressive and an atheist. Mr. Pabian is true to that character and doesn’t shy away from letting his characters think, say, and do what folks in life think, say and do. I found it refreshing and thought-provoking.
How often are atheists’ thoughts allowed to grace the pages of fiction? If you think about it, not much. In hopes of not offending a wide swath of one’s potential audience, writers tend not to delve to deeply into what an atheist really thinks when someone says something as seemingly innocent as “God bless you”. But for atheists, what does that mean? How should we accept that? Mr. Pabian explores this and other themes throughout his book in a tale that will bring you to tears and keep you thinking long into the night.