"On Air" by Robin Stratton

Posted by Dale Wilsey Jr. | Posted in , , , , , , , , , , , | Posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Taking a break from my current 700-page behemoth reading selection, I sat down with On Air, the new book from author, poet, editor, writing coach and Boston-ite Robin Stratton.

Stratton brings us into Eric Storm's life, a once-successful DJ for KROQ in Boston, who's life seems to be spinning to a disappointing, empty end. Storm's career as a DJ, once considered his dream job, has now become the bane of his existence as he spends time on air playing music he loathes until, after one too many acts of rebellion, he's fired. Three-years divorced from his wife, her painting studio remains untouched in his house, clinging to the memories of a once-happy marriage. His only friend is an unkempt man he met randomly after his show one night and his mother, the only family and real connection Storm has in his small world, is in declining health and driving him nuts through her love.

Though Eric is a middle-aged man, the story is, ultimately, one of maturation and growth. A movement from a self-centered, blame-shifting attitude to that of a truly understanding and mature man. Growth that, as Eric learns, should have been made much earlier in his life. We're dropped in the latter half of this transition, but learn, through Eric's recollections of the past, that his focus was on himself.
"But rather than ask how she is, I start talking, and I don't shut up...and it takes me three years to notice her happy smile fades. She even takes a step back, I see her take a step back. But do I stop talking? Hell, no! Talking, talking, talking...My needs, what makes me happy, what I like to do. Me  me me!"

Creating a believable and honest character of the opposite sex is always met with some challenges. There are intricacies inherent with your own gender, as a writer, which can and will seep into a character. Though Eric certainly carries some more feminine qualities, Stratton has created a character where these qualities come through naturally and perfectly.

Eric is not a rough and hard exteriored man, but a soft and timid man. A mama's boy in the best sense of the word, though he tries to deny it. He wants to be the ladies man. The heroic and tough man ready to beat someone to a pulp whenever it's deserved. But, as his friend Reynolds says, playing the role of the wise old man and philosopher throughout the book, "You can't take a break from being who you are".

At first, Eric's character got on my nerves a bit. He was whiny and never liked to examine himself and he approached romance like a child. That side of him comes out during his infatuation with the young street performer, Leesha. As I read on about his lust and general giddiness for this young girl, it was no surprise to me that his wife had left him. He was a child in thought still chasing after ridiculous dreams. Some of his comments and internal dialogue irked me. At times, I wanted to grab him by the shirt collar and tell him to grow up.

And he does. Stratton puts Eric to the test and pushes him further than he's ever been pushed before. She forces him to grow up through circumstances beyond his control and, as we read through the book, we see the transformation. By the end, after I had gone through emotions I had not expected to roll through with this book, I was happy for the man. Glad he had learned the error of his ways and found that the happiness and life he had been longing for was right in front of him. He just had to man up and go after it.

In a 173 pages, Stratton took me through the gambit of emotions. Recent events in my life may have contributed to how strongly some of her words touched me as a reader, but there's undeniable feeling here and connections that any reader can relate to. Stratton's writing is tight and focused, only straying when Eric takes a moment to lose himself within his own thoughts. She always finds a way to bring him back to point, however. Stratton will make you laugh in one paragraph and hit you with some incredible insight on life in the next.
"Sometimes it's possible, for a hundredth of a second, to conceive of the past, present, and future, all happening simultaneously...Only I know, here in the present, which is the future of the past. My mind struggles with the nearness of the epiphany, then retreats, incapable of understanding."
Watch how well she weaves her characters together. If there was any excess to the story, Stratton has cut it all out and left you with nothing but the good stuff. Each interaction and event in Eric's life is essential to his growth and story.

A witty, funny, sometimes heartbreaking book, On Air is definitely worth picking up and checking out. You can read it in an evening and reread it again to pick up on anything you may have missed. Eric's character grew on me and Stratton's style and way of telling a story was a refreshing break from what I had been reading.

On Air is available from Blue Mustang Press and Amazon.com. For more information on Robin Stratton and other books she's written, including her poetry collections, visit RobinStratton.com.

Also, check out the Boston Literary Magazine which Robin edits. Their 5th anniversary, Summer 2011 issue is now available in print from Big Table Publishing.


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