In his new book, Between Eden and the Open Road, author Philip Gaber has little to say to prospective readers who might pick up the title. In fact, there are no front or back cover notes, no preface, and no author bio. There is a table of contents with intriguing title names and a terse dedication that does make one point about this book perfectly clear: “This book is for those to whom it speaks.” And given the fact that Between Eden and the Open Road is a candid, often darkly humorous, account of aspects of the screwed-up lives of every character, that proclamation encompasses a lot of readers! But the reader is also challenged by the book to figure out who is speaking, what do they mean, and whether they are really serious!
From the outset, I began to wonder if Gaber was sometimes brilliant, or sometimes right on the edge of dissociation. Because the main character in the book is so well defined, and the author does not share any information about himself, it is convenient to assume that Gaber is drawing heavily on his own life experiences in weaving together the colorful patchwork quilt of stories that make up the book. But we have no way of knowing if that is true. The same holds true for the large ensemble cast of quirky characters that populate the dysfunctional world in which the main character resides. Literally, from one page to the next, the reader can’t be sure what they will encounter in this wonderland rabbit hole. The book is mercurial, enigmatic, depressing and uplifting, all at the same time.
As for Gaber’s terse pronouncement that the book is for those to whom it speaks, he provides few hints on that matter either, offering an array of personality types with whom the reader can relate in some way, on some level. Between Eden and the Open Road takes the reader on a hectic and varied itinerary, with stops to explore difficult childhoods, family dysfunction, male-female dynamics, finding one’s purpose in life, substance abuse, alcoholism, disillusionment, depression, and dying. The stories sometimes seem to speak only to the main character, but most often they seem to speak universal truths. But Gaber does not speak in a universal language. In fact, some readers might find themselves wondering what language he is speaking.
Gaber’s writing style reflects the increasingly encountered genre of prose-poetry which for me, given the execution of the technique, can have an appealing, rhythmic cadence that I find riveting. On the other hand, as used by some writers, I find it an annoying distraction. Gaber’s writing works for me. Even when I disconnected from the story in places, to the point of actually putting the book down, I found myself a short time later drawn back to the book by the rhythm of the writing, much as one might have a song melody “stuck” in their head.
Reading Phillip Gaber’s Between Eden and the Open Road was an enjoyable love- hate relationship for me. I’m still deciding what I really think about the book. That’s why it’s still at my bedside, with me undergoing the pleasurable process of re-reading selected chapters. One thing is certain though. While I don’t know yet exactly what it is about Gaber’s book, I just like having it around.