ST. CHARLES – A hypnotically dream-like novel has poured from the mind of St. Charles author Patrick Parks, called "Tucumcari."
He acknowledges the influence of such authors as Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O'Connor and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and to give a hint of the newly released work's unpredictable plot, his website shares the book's broad strokes:
"A man wakes up one morning believing he has a wife who lives in Tucumcari, New Mexico. A wife he somehow remembers yet does not know. When he decides to find her, he embarks on a surreal journey through both landscape and memory. The reader travels with the narrator through sinking cities, his father's various jobs, government-designated atomic safe havens, motel rooms, cities made of only men, and interactions with people from his childhood including Boyd Delmarco, a famous radio personality whose lungs have turned to glass."
The book is published by KERNPUNKT and has been garnering praise. Parks taught English for 35 years, including 26 years at Elgin Community College. His fiction has been published in a variety of journals. In addition, he was editor of "Black Dirt," a literary journal; edited "Sarajevo: An Anthology for Bosnian Relief"; and wrote reviews for Literary Magazine Review. The recipient of two Illinois Arts Council awards, he is a graduate of The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since his retirement in 2012, Parks notes he has been writing fiction with abandon.
Because "Tucumcari" is not a traditional novel, he knew he had "better make it entertaining," he told Kane Weekend Editor Renee Tomell. The following is an edited version of the rest of their conversation.
Renee Tomell: Why did you pick Tucumcari for the town the first-person narrator appears to recall?
Patrick Parks: The idea came from two outside sources, a song by the band Little Feat, and the other was a scene from [a Sergio Leone western]. Lee Van Cleef gets off the train at Tucumcari.
Tomell: How long have you been working on the novel?
Parks: I did start the book a long, long time ago. It was in bits and pieces [before retirement]. The book I ended up with is not the one I started to write. I had a traditional road book [in mind]. Two guys travel across the country. [It] evolved into what I ended up with – a lot of short pieces I pulled together. I fiddled around with [the story]. I just liked what I was doing. [At] 180 pages, [it's] not too immense. People won't have to have a friend help them carry it.
Tomell: There appear to be haunting holdovers of the 20th century's Cold War in the work.
Parks: There's a lot of references to the atomic bomb [in] a bunch of motifs that I develop. [I] didn't see the pattern until I was farther along. My son picked up heat and light in it.
Tomell: How do you characterize the novel's narrator who's in an unusual predicament?
Parks: He tells that his father helped build the atomic bomb. … The narrator is not to be trusted necessarily [in this] first-person story. … He can be doubted, unreliable. He has his own version of the truth, which isn't consistent either. Truth changes.
Tomell: You mentioned finding some of your inspiration for the novel in an Einstein quote. What is that quote?
Parks: '… the products of his imagination appear so necessary and natural that he regards them, and would like them to be regarded by others, not as creations of thought, but as given realities.'
Tomell: How does that dovetail with your novel?
Parks: A narrator who just had lots of realities and could tell you one thing and [then] tell you something else. It was really fun to write [and] gave me a lot of directions.
Tomell: How do you want readers to view your narrator?
Parks: … I wanted it to be a tender story. I wanted … emotion behind it. I wanted people to like the guy. The voice is one I'll never use again. It was only for this book – that character's. When I locked onto it, I knew I had it.
Tomell: Had you visited Tucumcari before writing the book?
Parks: Not until after I finished the book. … I wanted to make it up. My mom and dad were going to New Mexico [a long time ago – I] knew only [it was an] overnight stop between Abilene, Texas, and Albuquerque on Route 66 [and was] famous for motel rooms. It's a weird little town. [I] stopped overnight driving back from San Diego [at the] Blue Swallow motel – a really cool old '40s and '50s motel. [You] have a garage next to your room.
Tomell: The book's cover art has special significance for you?
Parks: The picture on the cover of the book is my mom. My dad took the photograph on one of their trips. She's standing out in the white sands waving. I found it after they passed away [and thought it] looks like a book cover to me.
The novel has been published as a paperback and is available through KERNPUNKT at kernpunktpress.com. Parks will give a reading from his book Oct. 18 at Elgin Community College. For more information, visit patrick-parks.com.