Sunday, January 03, 2010

At the Table of Want

At the Table of Want
by Larry Kimport

(Foremost Press / 1-936-15402-1 / 978-1-936-15402-9 / October 2009 / 344 pages / $16.97 / Amazon $15.27 / Smashwords $4.97)

Reviewed by Lloyd Lofthouse for PODBRAM

At the Table of Want by Larry Kimport is a five-star story. I've read only one other book this year that earned five stars (at Amazon) and that was 600 Hours of Edward, a novel by Craig Lancaster. I may have given five stars to books I read and reviewed prior to adopting Alice Wakefield's rating system in June 2009, but those reads are four-star books, all of them.

After I started reading At the Table of Want, it was a struggle not to drop everything else and read nonstop. Hooked, I was, but I managed to resist the urge to throw everything else aside, like my marriage, putting out the trash, eating and sleeping, and only read late at night or early in the morning for a limited time. Still, I finished Kimport's novel in record time, and I often thought of the story during the day. Each night as I picked up the book, it was like that slice of apple pie after not having one for several months.

Truman Kramer is the main character. He is orphaned young and ends up being raised by his loving Aunt Mabel, a widow. However, the story doesn't start with Truman's childhood. Chapter 1 starts in 1980 at 35,000 feet in a wide-bodied 747. Truman is on his way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, because he joined the Peace Corps soon after high school graduation. The other Peace Corps volunteers, mostly college graduates, are of the opinion that Truman will be one of the first to quit and return home. How wrong they are and Truman's decision to stay in Malaysia and work with poverty-stricken, abused, handicapped children, a job none of the other Peace Corps volunteers want, is what makes this story powerful.

The structure of the story may not make sense at first (it's still good reading), but by the time you are halfway through the book, you will be glad that the author wrote it that way. In the early chapters, the story alternates between Malaysia and Truman as a child seeing his mother die, being taken care of by an older man, then his Aunt Mabel, and the bully incident that sent Truman to a juvenile boy's home prison-like facility for a year when he was a teen (he was framed, but the bully got what he deserved). Because of the structure the author uses, we learn why it makes sense that Truman would have so much compassion for the abandoned, abused handicapped children, all special education types. Truman is not a teacher, he's never been to college and has no training to work with these kids.

The conditions these children live in are horrible. When Truman first sees them, most are naked, filthy and live in a concrete structure surrounded by trash and weeds, sort of like a rundown, bombed-out storage facility after a war. They have been abandoned by their families and their culture to be hidden away with no chance at any life worth living. Then Truman makes his decision, and just thinking about what he did for those kids brings tears to my eyes. Don't jump to conclusions. Truman is no saint. He drinks too much and has an affair with a skinny, bony, married, Malaysian Chinese woman, who is several years older than he is. This is not your standard, escapist, formula romance, and that plot line adds to the story, too.

Malaysia is an Islamic country and adultery is a risky venture at best. That is why I did something I've never done before in the fifty-plus years I've been reading books (thousands of them). With more than a hundred pages to go, I was worried that Truman was going to be caught and punished by the Islamic government of Malaysia, so I read the ending several days before I finished the book. If you want to discover what happens, you will have to buy the book and join Truman in Southeast Asia. Know this: the pleasure I gained from reading this book was not from the conclusion but in the story that a skilled pen crafted. The story is so convincing, I suspect that Larry Kimport must have been in the Peace Corps and lived in Malaysia for a few years. Halfway through the book, I wondered how much of this story was autobiographical. The details are that rich, that vivid.

I highly recommend At the Table of Want. Occasionally (only a few times), there would be a phrase or clause that didn't make sense to me as the author attempted to construct a sentence that had a poetic quality to it, but that was rare and it didn't diminish the story. The story works and so do ninety-nine percent of those poetic sentence constructions. Thank you, Larry Kimport, for taking me on a trip to Truman's Malaysia. I started a boutique press this year, and this is the kind of book I want to publish, one that goes beyond assembly line, formula fiction.

See also:A Small Harvest of Pretty Days by Larry Kimport
Lloyd's PODBRAM review of 600 Hours of a Life (original title)
Larry Kimport's bio at Foremost Press
A recent article about author Larry Kimport
Larry Kimport at Smashwords

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