by Rob Callahan
Dylan Hicks hadn’t released an album in about eleven years before Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene came out. He’d spent the time between then and now keeping busy as a journalist and, as Coffee House Press is now busily letting us all know, working on his novel. If you happened upon him at a literary event over the last month or so, you could pick up Boarded Windows ahead of its official launch date. For the regular book-buying public, though, it was a matter of waiting until last Thursday to start turning pages.
Hicks brought his family out to one of my readings last year, shortly after I found out he had a book in the works, and all I could think to ask him about was his impending foray into world of the long form literati. He told me then, “Every good journalist has a novel in him – which is an excellent place for it.”
Hicks’ propensity for self-deprecation and his quickness to quote Russell Lynes both hinted at a voice that could sit well on the printed page, so that got me looking forward to seeing the finished book. Now that I’ve read it, I can report to you that it is just about everything you’d have expected. What sells it, though, or at least what sold it on Thursday, is the author’s own presentation.
Boarded Windows tells of an unreliable narrator’s fallible memory of more innocent times, when now was the future and looking ahead was a more hopeful endeavor. Hicks reads it as Keith David might read Don LaFontaine, cooperating with his anonymous narrator, working together to relay early nineties misadventures and misremembered segments of a distant youth, their respective real and fictional voices blending together. It’s a convincing ruse that leaves more than a few audience members pressing him about just where he draws the line between his truth and his fiction. It’s a fine but definite line, as it turns out, yet he’s not afraid to blur it.
Above his musical interludes and beyond his impressive prose, what really capture the crowd are his sincerity and wit. For example, when his son Jackson leaves the reading just when the story hints at getting uncomfortable (it turns out just to get a glass of water,) he jokes that he’s alienated his first audience member. When the line forms for autographs (or signatures. I’m never sure which I should say. Autographs feel like something Tom Cruise does. Signatures seem like something that bump up the value of an otherwise run-of-the-mill paper book.) Anyway, when that line forms, everyone in it gets a one-on-one back-and-forth with the author that supplements both the evening just behind and the reading just ahead of them.