Figures on a Beach, by Kirk VanDyke
If you have ever simultaneously longed for and feared the weightless transience of living on the road, taking work where you can find it and living unencumbered by rent and routine, you will be, as I was, drawn immediately into the solitary life of John Jones, the complex protagonist of Kirk VanDyke’s short novel, Figures on a Beach, re-published by Elm Books in 2012.
Jones, having escaped the Wyoming winter in his 1970 VW bus and headed for the coast of Texas with $250 in his wallet, finds himself adrift, camping on a beach, looking for work during the off season and finding himself surrounded by a collection of strange, interesting, and sometimes dark beach dwellers with complicated stories and internal landscapes of their own. He is joined by Maggie, a dog who brings him a feeling of family and connection, and Cathy, an elegant, beautiful woman who has landed on his beach while following her own strange and unfocused desires for self-knowledge. On the darker side, this novel is also about the fault lines that run inside the human mind, as John Jones is accompanied by Ben and Brian, critical, abusive voices who erode Jones’ ability to function in society and occasionally reveal the extent of him own mental illness to those around him.
Figures on a Beach is not a pretty novel, not tied up cleanly with one thread and folded in the end; it is, instead, a real, substantial, thoughtful, and intelligent novel, and one that bares the intersection of love and longing, health and illness, and the desire to belong to something that the heart cannot quite identify.
Editor in Chief
Open Window Review