A Novel in Three Parts by W. Royal Stokes
"Taking a short cut home from Fritz’s Grill, he noticed that the path through the woods had been cleared and sanded. The air was cold but bright sun burst through the bare, skeletal trees and here and there were moist patches on the flagstone steps that led down to the next level of the path. It put him in mind of New England in March or early April, when the gray had left the sky and fallen snow didn’t stand a chance against the early afternoon sun."
Caught midway between the "greatest generation" and its boomer offspring, Joe Lewis straddles two disparate cultures and embodies a variety of contradictory roles: a professor who finds he has more in common with war-protesting students than his buttoned-down colleagues; an over-thirty countercultural convert who hips his young friends to jazz; a Ph.D. working as a dishwasher; and, eventually, a hedonist who has become a devoted family man.
Backwards Over is a three-part chronicle of Joe's restless journey through America of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Scenes range from a cotton-field juke joint in rural Texas to a fiery Harvard Square riot, with stops along the way in Austin, Naples, Colorado, and rural Maine.
By the third book, Joe's odyssey seems to have reached a satisfying conclusion: he's parlayed his lifelong love of jazz and blues into a rewarding career; his wife Jane, who grew up on a farm in Central Canada, runs her own successful bookstore; and their twin daughters are bright and well-adjusted teens. But when a figure from his past suddenly, and threateningly, surfaces, Joe is cast into a sea of colorful and sometimes painful memories, all while struggling to maintain stability in his current life and relationships.
America’s great musical forms, particularly jazz and blues, are a constant theme, as is Joe’s commitment to the life of the mind, whether in a formal setting or in the free-form life he eventually builds for himself. Crossing paths with Joe in the course of the trilogy are Jim Harsh, rebuilder of VWs, and master mechanic Boz; Joe’s ex-wives, MacKenzie and Jyll; and musicians Messalina, Papa John Brophy, Lulu White, Flossie, Boo Shook, Bear, Buffie Pee, G.W. (The Carver) Simpson, and The Feather Merchant.
Throughout it all, Joe is an inveterate observer, taking in and recalling many details of the variety of human experience.
About the Author
W. Royal Stokes was the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award of the Jazz Journalists Association. He is the author of Swing Era New York, The Jazz Scene, Growing Up With Jazz, and Living the Jazz Life. Backwards Over is his first work of fiction.