By J. Paul Henderson
Published by No Exit Press
Published in Paperback and Ebook
The Last Bus to Coffeeville, J. Paul Henderson’s debut novel, is a book about endings, beginnings, and trying to find your way in life.
This is the story of Gene and Nancy who are on the slippery slope of growing old with Nancy having dementia and Gene having to face up to the realities of retirement. The time has come for Gene to stick to his promise, made back when they were at college and were lovers, when Nancy watched her own mother develop dementia – the promise: help when the time comes for her to die.
The book is in two parts – the first section explores the relationship of Gene, Nancy and their close friend Bob, back when they were at university and were involved with the Civil Rights Movement and how they ended up becoming separated from each other.
The reader learns that Gene, although the main protagonist has probably had the most boring, normal life and is also the least likable character – a doctor with no bed-side manner in a small American town (although the death of this wife and child are brushed over in a couple of sentences and I would have liked to have known more) while Nancy becomes a teacher even though she doesn't want children (because she doesn't want to pass on any genes that may cause them to have dementia) and marries a man who keeps a tight rein on the purse strings. Bob, the most interesting character in this book, starts off as a sniper for the American Army, ends up faking his death, hiding out in Cuba with Che Guevara, battling in the Civil Rights Movement and ends up working in a launderette that doubles as a place to get fake documents, money and even weapons. I could have happily read a whole novel just about Bob. Henderson does a great job off creating interesting and intriguing characters.
While the second half is Gene, Nancy, Bob and Gene’s merry band of followers – an orphan boy who is on the run from his boarding school, Gene’s godson - a disgraced weatherman and Bob, on the run from the law and who can count Che Guevara as a friend, all packed inside a tour bus, stolen from Paul McCarthy, touring through America, taking in the sights and getting themselves into trouble. I think it would have been nicer to have started with the excitement of breaking Nancy out of the nursing home and the start of their journey at the start of the novel. The background of Gene and his friends would work better as flashbacks throughout the novel – rather than building up the reader with an intriguing prologue and then cutting off to explain the back ground of the three main characters. But this is just my personal taste. I was eager for the journey to begin after the prologue and not have to wade through the back stories of the three characters (even though it was interesting).
I was hoping this book would be like Little Miss Sunshine but I found it to be more like Forrest Gump with the quirky, over the top characters all brought together to help Nancy reach the place she wants to die, making their way through the major twentieth century events in America’s history – the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Crisis and the rise of Hershey chocolate.
Although this book is about Nancy’s decline with dementia, Henderson does a good job of exploring the power of friendship, love, determinism, and the notion of family as well as keep the humour simmering in the background. If you’re looking for a light-hearted book full of big themes, or you’re looking for a ‘road-movie’ book then this one is for you.
Last Bus to Coffeeville is available to order from your favourite bookshop. You can also buy Last Bus to Coffeeville on Kindle for a bargain price of 99p but that offer won't last for long!
This review is part of the Last Bus to Coffeeville blog tour. The next stop will be The Reading Thing.
I was kindly sent a copy from the publisher.