A Better Place to Be by David Wind is inspired by the folk-rock song of the same name by legendary singer-songwriter-storyteller Harry Chapin. This exquisitely-written novel pays homage to the song while creating a detailed back story and character study. It makes sense that a novel would emanate from a Chapin song given the short story nature of much of the late artist’s portfolio. In the book, lead character John Edghes’ life spirals downward on a long, excruciating, painful journey after life deals him a devastating blow.
The author gets deep inside the mind and soul of John as he paints a realistic portrait of a man’s descent into despair and his struggle to reclaim functionality in the real world. It’s a long, agonizing, but compelling ordeal that paints a stark portrait of the rocky road to recovery and wholeness. After a stint of homelessness, John finds himself waking up in a rehab center, injured and in trouble with the law. He is kept there under close observation and receives intensive therapy, both mental and physical. It is here that John is forced to confront his reality. The realistic novel does not sugarcoat this. It is an uphill battle filled with pitfalls, false starts, and relapses.
John goes to really dark places, as people do in reality when they are alone and depressed. However, flickers of light manage to find their way into John’s life literally and figuratively. The author uses symbolism sparingly but potently to reflect this: “But that didn’t matter because it created just enough shadows in the dust motes drifting around the room to keep his mind off the dark thoughts that shut out the weak light entering the room.” “The darkness was almost complete. The only light came from a few yellow shafts leeching around the edges of the tightly-pulled shade as the sun did its best to chase away the night.”
The reader hopes that John will let some of this light that is determined to find its way into the room with the drawn shades into his life.
Note: The novel can stand alone without being familiar with the song, but I think it’s a good idea to listen to it.