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 Fiction Review    

 

 

Coyote Moon
By John A. Miller
Forge, 2003
Hardcover, $24.95 (302 pages)
ISBN: 0-765-30627-1
 
 
 

Quite deservedly, California Book Award-winning novelist, John A. Miller, should be listed among the most gifted and inventive writers in America.  Unfortunately to date that bit of news seems to be one of our best-kept literary secrets, but that may be about to change. 

 

Critically acclaimed for well over a decade, but still not exactly a household name, John Miller’s life story is something right out of a Dickens novel.  A native of Durham, NC, Miller drifted for a year following high school before he joined the Army and was commissioned a lieutenant from OCS at Aberdeen, MD.  After completing jump school at Ft. Benning, GA, he went to Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne in 1968 and came home with a Bronze Star.  Back home he quickly opted to be the first in his family to go to college, eventually going on to establish a successful law practice in the Silicon Valley area of California.  In 1988, restless to satisfy some vague creative discontent, Miller abruptly resigned his law practice to try his hand at writing.  Incredible as it seems—with absolutely no previous training or experience in writing fiction other than having always been an obsessive reader—his first story Bethune, South Carolina appeared in the William and Mary Review in 1990.  Publication in other literary journals quickly followed with Orloff Press publishing the California Book Award-winning debut collection Jackson Street and Other Soldier Stories in 1964. 

       

Released in November and aptly described by his publisher as Field of Dreams meets Cocoon, Miller’s enchanting new novel, Coyote Moon, marks a sharp break in form from his previous novel, Tropical Heat, a thriller Publishers Weekly awarded a starred review.  In the grand tradition of Mark Twain, Coyote Moon is among that rarest of literary treasures.  It is simply great fun—a darn good read! 

 

Drolly-imagined, but warmheartedly-given, Coyote Moon chronicles the quixotic adventures of Benny Rhodes, a well-respected sexagenarian MIT physics professor, who, devastated and disillusioned by the inequitable and untimely death of his brilliant—albeit much younger—colleague, resigns the university, dissolves his marriage and meanders aimlessly west.  On a stopover to look in on an old colleague in Oklahoma, Benny falls in love with Becky Morgan an “extraordinarily fecund” young ex-schoolteacher (now a waitress) half his age and they wind up taking residence with a group of ancient Hitler-era expatriate Germans in a rundown enclave of Airstream trailers on the edge of the Mojave desert in Needles, California.   

Convinced that Needles is a special place (“…something is going to happen here.”), the quaint aged park residents pass away the time drinking muscular German homebrew and arguing baseball.  When sensational rookie catcher for the Oakland As, Henry Spencer—a previously unknown and relatively uneducated North Carolina ex-paratrooper with a hazy memory and an inexplicable gift for higher mathematics and quantum physics—shows up in the trailer park with his girlfriend, there is serious, however boozy, speculation that Henry might be the reincarnation of Benny’s recently deceased young genius protégé (perhaps even a direct descendant of Sir Isaac Newton).   

Sweetly romantic and laugh-out-loud funny, this beguiling little fable offers an absolutely captivating tapestry of plot threads engendering thoughtful reflection on the complexity of the cosmos. 

 

For first time John A. Miller readers looking for more, a thumbnail chronology of his titles includes the California Book Award-winning debut collection Jackson Street and Other Soldier Stories followed by the novels, Cutdown; Causes of Action; and Tropical Heat.  The December edition of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine contains the first of a projected series of Miller’s new mystery stories.

       

Married to Karen Orchard, former editorial director of the UGA Press, the Millers now live in Corvallis, OR, where Karen is director of Oregon State University Press.

 

 

Brewster Milton Robertson
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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