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Book Review: Further Adventures by Jon Stephen Fink

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Does heroism lie in the intent or in the implementation? In Further Adventures Jon Stephen Fink’s elderly protagonist, Ray Green, is an obsolete idealist. A hero in his own mind, and once upon a time a hero on the radio, Green is launched from a retired and retiring bachelorhood by a series of events completely alien to his understanding.

Once a radio superhero, “The Green Ray” alias Peter Tremayne, Ray Green has fumbled through a lonely and largely unaware existence until he reaches old age in an era where heroes and villains are shadowy, morally ambiguous creatures. Further Adventures is told in Ray’s quirky, grandiloquent, semi-literate voice. This is both the most endearing and the most annoying feature of the book. Like the stories of the chattering retiree one is helpless to escape on the airplane, Ray’s self-absorbed naïveté alternately charms and grates.

"God forbid if my Life ended by itself in the Desert from a heart attack and if Annie LaSalle was there by my side I believe with my last breath I could defend my Actions of 73 Years and keep my Good Name. But before it could wind up that way my past experiences came back to me under my skin suckered the Good nature of my character and led me to people places & actions that God did not forbid. It peeled off my innocent skin but underneath it was the Opposite nor do I not mean Experience no it was Guilty."

Paragraphs such as this one both make my head hurt and cause me to root for Ray. Did I mention that the book is Ray’s suicide note? This presentation was a brilliant maneuver on the part of the author. No matter how cringe-inducing Ray’s experiences, how dreadful the consequences of his well-intentioned acts, Fink drags the reader along on Ray’s journey. It is difficult to put down a suicide note, especially without a body present to define the ending. Even when I wanted to shake Ray, telling him to get a real life, I felt compelled to see how his story ends. Would he indeed have the motivation to shoot himself? Would his mysterious nemesis find him first? Would he die of constipation?

The constipation thing is a bit perplexing. At first, Ray’s inordinate obsession with his bowels seems to be that of a somewhat stereotyped old man. However, even during his flashbacks to his life in the 1930s as the radio hero, The Green Ray, we see a much younger man concerned with fiber and flatulence. Of course, this fixation on excrement is ripe with potential symbolism, but ultimately, it is just funny.

Throughout Further Adventures, Fink blends horror and comedy adroitly. Ray’s run-on sentences, random capitalizations, and constant search for the perfect high-colonic both lighten and heighten the darkness in scenes of violence, loss, and human cruelty. Surrounded by human traffickers in a Mexican town, Ray meets with the duplicitous FBI agent accused of tormenting his beloved Amelia. This man may (or may not) be responsible for the kidnapping attempt in which Ray and Amelia meet, the attack on Ray and Amelia’s motel room by gunmen, and a years-long stalking of Amelia. Yet, when the meeting ends, after Ray has learned from Agent Newberry that Amelia is the head of a large immigrant smuggling operation, the enema is still at the forefront of Ray’s mind.

[Newberry] pondered again. “Didn’t you say you wanted to see a doctor about something?”
“A high colonic.”
“Look. We use a clinic a few blocks from here.” He scratched the address on a scrap of paper. “Can you read my writing?”
“Arroyo Seco Medical,” I read it out. “Only certain qualified practitioners do colonics.”
“They do everything there.”
“O.K. then. Make the appointment.”
“It’ll be with Dr. Epps. Let’s say nine o’clock tomorrow morning.”
“Dr. Epps. He’s got a first name?”
“Barry. When you get into the examining room one of the nurses will bring you the file. Lie back. Enjoy your high colonic—“
“You lie on your side.”
“Whatever. You can have the file for an hour…”

And, yes, Ray really does read through the FBI file on Amelia while “enjoy[ing his] high colonic.”

Further Adventures wanders from New Mexico into Mexico and back, from the 1980s to the 1930s and back again. Along the journey, Ray’s commentary gives the feeling of a Candide-like character, a hapless man desperate to do good in a world that has no patience or place for the innocent. Like Candide, Ray’s oblivious good intentions leave a swath of havoc behind him.

One gets the impression that the only world in which Ray ever felt at home was the scripted world of the Green Ray. The grandiose, black and white world of radio melodrama protected him from a world of grey. While Ray is most comfortable in a world of heroes and villains, Fink drops him into a purgatory populated with the venal, the self-interested, and the psychotic.

This edition of Further Adventures has been pared down from the original 1992 release. In Fink’s own words, he has “trimmed, sharpened, and otherwise polished dialogue, and have performed the same service for Green Ray episodes, too.” The result is a slim 335 pages compared to the original 597.

Further Adventures is not for everyone. If you like your good and evil clearly delineated, your heroes truly heroic, your damsels in distress faithful, loving, and innocent — well, then, like Ray, you would be better off in another story. If, however, you enjoy dark humor and have a stomach for ambiguity and for the depravity of humanity, this is your story.

SPOILER ALERT: Jon Stephen Fink is working on The Return of the Green Ray.

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