Goliad Media Group, LLC
Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-0-9985-5546-1, 266 pgs., $16
March 15, 2021
“Sometimes it takes gettin’ out in the wind to see what you take for granted, how to appreciate things in a new way.”
While extraordinary events are often the most life changing, the everyday moments and the daily joys and turmoil are what either build or crumble the foundation and walls of lives lived in between those remarkable, unforgettable junctures.
After years of marriage and with their son, Ben, almost grown, Melinda and Parker are bulldozing new paths in opposite directions in Clarkton, Missouri. Melissa can no longer handle Parker’s convulsions and vulgar outbursts that remain a mystery to every physician, and Parker does not stand in her way when she moves both herself and their son in with her sister, Maureen. Parker digs in his heels and tries to piece together a normal existence with joint custody of Ben, while continuing to remain free from alcohol addiction and trying to recognize when his mind and body are about to devolve into another paroxysm because of his undiagnosed and barely managed disorder. In contrast, Melinda heads out on a solo road trip to get away from it all and find peace amidst the turbulence of simply living.
In his debut novel, If and When I Call, Austin-musician Will Johnson uses his songwriting talent to produce incredibly lyrical fiction about ordinary people struggling to breathe through the constricting apathy and restlessness that take hold and settle in.
The setting in Clarkton, Missouri, reflects so many small towns across the United States that are populated with people who either feel content or confined in their predictable, unchanging microcosms. The pacing of If or When I Call is a quick-quick, slow-slow two-step that draws the reader into the characters’ prosaic yet courageously spontaneous lives.
The points of view oscillate between Parker, Melinda, Ben, and Maureen, each with a unique cadence and style. Young Ben’s narrative is the most poetical—almost like a rap song, while Melinda’s is filled with longer prose and deeper description. This varied structure mimics the variety of personalities orbiting each other, with the rolling waves of separation and attachment; indifference and abiding love.
The lack of quotation marks around the dialogue is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s work, providing an edgy atmosphere to each character’s section. While this construction takes some getting used to, readers searching for such imaginative literary defiance will delight in Johnson’s ability to shape with simplicity and brevity the mundane yet remarkable lives that are completely realistic and, perhaps, even relatable.
Like many people in real life, the characters in If or When I Call desperately want to escape the tribulations and burdens of their existence by taking a circular road trip, hitching a ride to anywhere but Clarkton, whether driving a first vehicle with a brand-new license or becoming lost in the rhythmic sanding of a table leg. These simple activities can rejuvenate and even redefine a person or maybe only relax the mind and allow the hurt to be scraped away, revealing a shiny new self that was there all along.
Will Johnson is a musician and songwriter who has played in the bands Centro-matic, South San Gabriel, Marie/Lepanto, Overseas, New Multitudes, and Monsters of Folk. He also releases records under his own name and makes paintings centering on the subject of baseball and its history. His work has appeared in American Short Fiction. Born in Kennett, Missouri, Johnson lives in Austin, Texas. If or When I Call is his first novel.