The End of the Tunnel

 (Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)


This is bound to be a unique kind of book review. First of all, the book I just finished, Shine, is the third in a series. Secondly, it’s not fiction. Thirdly, I’ve known the author, Joey Holland, for most of my life, probably dating back to some swing set or playground slide or sandbox.

By Monte Dutton
By Monte Dutton

Across three, painfully frank, tortuous epistles, Holland has told his own story of degradation and redemption. One pleasing aspect of Shine is that the narrative turns positive. It had to, or else Holland wouldn’t be alive to write it.

The three volumes are Desperate Fun, Hobo Chic, and Shine. This is mainly about the last, but it takes all three to learn the whole, sordid saga of Joey’s family through the focus of his own harrowing experience. Were these combined into one volume, and if they were a similar story told by a celebrity, I’m confident this trilogy would make bestseller lists. All I can compare it to is Brian Wilson’s autobiography, Wouldn’t It Be Nice? My Own Story, which deeply affected me over a decade ago. It has the same long grind of inevitable doom, and by the time the story hits bottom and starts to turn positive again, it seems to have taken an impossibly long time.

The broad story is the fall of a prominent family. I knew the basics because I’ve lived here for most of my life. Joey and his sisters, Cindy and Nan, are all a little younger than I. Their father, Joe Holland, was the star of every PTA meeting when I was in grade school. He was a likable man who got himself elected first to County Council and then to the legislature.

Joe Holland liked my grandfather. In fact, Joe Holland liked everybody. I worked at my grandfather’s grocery store when I was a teen-ager. Representative Holland ran the Piggly Wiggly store, but, each night, when it closed, he stopped by Dutton’s Market to chat with my grandfather. I remember that he almost always bought a bunch of bananas, which was a bit absurd because the Piggly Wiggly had plenty of bananas. It was rumored that Joe had a drinking problem, and that he took pills, and his sluggish demeanor chatting with B.M., my grandfather, provided little evidence to dispute this. It was just whispered because, even though he was getting himself in trouble, people liked Joe Holland.

The author’s father lost everything. He made a laughable, desperate mistake, and the result was the loss of his high position, his business, a facade of respectability, and freedom. When he got out of the penitentiary, he worked behind the counter of what we call a curb market, which was somewhere between the convenience store of today and the supermarket. I’d see him from time to time, and he’d asked me how my mom and dad were, and mention “old Brack” (B.M., since “young Brack” was my brother). He was a broken man, and it didn’t surprise when he died soon after.

From there, everything went spiraling out of control. The facade was gone. The focus of Joey’s books is his personal journey through hell, and, just as I needed to get to the point where Brian Wilson found some relief, I needed Shine to be written just because of a man’s conditioned yearning for happy endings.

Joey has a wicked sense of humor, the kind that makes a reader laugh while he thinks he should be crying. The humor creates a guilt trip. All three books are achingly honest, and it seems as if the only logical conclusion to such a relentless tale of ruination is the ultimate, which, fortunately, didn’t occur. It’s a true story, which means there is hope for others trapped in life’s whirlpool.

I knew the basic story. I thought I didn’t need to know the grimy details. I was wrong.

Because the books are non-fiction, and because the author remains alive, there had to be a happy ending out there somewhere.

Which brings us, at last, to Shine, like unto the title.

Joey becomes our hero, at last. After sharing in the general collapse of the family, and enduring the death of his mother, Shine tells the story of the long road back for the unfortunate possessor, and inheritor, of an addictive personality. He gets by with the help of his friends, all veterans of similar wars. He has to overcome his addiction, a heretofore invincible monster, as well as his innate cynicism. He has to buy in to the principles of recovery, and as one follows the narrative, a sinking feeling rises one more time in the reader because he knows a setback is coming.

Which it does, but the long, arduous journey ultimately becomes one of triumph.

In direct violation of a Ronnie Milsap song, and spoiler alerts everywhere, this is how the story ends: “The only constant is that recovery: meetings, carrying the message, and practicing the principles of recovery remains the most important thing in my life, ‘Just Today’ my mantra.”

              Please consider Joey Holland’s Shine here:

              And Hobo Chic:


(This graphic was designed by Meredith Pritchard)
(This graphic was designed by Meredith Pritchard)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

              My three novels — Crazy of Natural Causes (2015), The Intangibles (2013), and The Audacity of Dope (2011) — are available, along with most of my non-fiction titles, here:

              Soon my fourth novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, will be published by Kindle Press. Meanwhile, follow me on Twitter @montedutton, more irreverently @wastedpilgrim, more literarily @hmdutton, and on Facebook at Monte.Dutton.


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