When you’re Alexander Poole, everyone’s your teacher: a skeevy stereo salesman, master of the bait and switch; a flaky folk singer and his dog that reads Tolkien; a drug dealer loan shark with a passion for trees; a ballsy townie chick who turns you on to Springsteen; your wiseass roommate whose favorite pastime is smoking your dope; even your one true love. Together they point you to paradise — Poole’s Paradise – but what will it cost to get in?
Poole's Paradise is set in 1974 in the "wilds of Western Connecticut", among the Berkshires to be more specific. It's the story of Alexander Poole, a Cort College sophomore in the fictional town of Greenville. As the blurb implies, Poole is trying to assemble a personal code of ethics, or philosophy for life, from the interactions he has with several people in his life. There's a certain level of naïveté to his demeanor. He's too trusting and deals with the world in an open and honest way that, while admirable, is dangerous—the cover features the tarot card of "The Fool" for a reason. As Poole is willing to apply this approach to everyone, he inevitably winds up in a serious predicament involving a sizable stash of drugs and cash. Ultimately, he has to choose between abandoning this philosophy or figuring out how to make it work in order to save himself and his friends.
In the first third of the book, Poole's Paradise seems like it's going to be "Zen and the pursuit of the perfect stereo." Poole engages in several discussions about stereo equipment, and it serves as a great introduction to those characters. My father is something of an audiophile, and I grew up listening to him expound upon the merits of music media (vinyl vs tape) and the constant refinement of his stereo gear: turntables, amplifiers, speakers, and more. Reading the exchange between the characters on this subject had me fondly recalling those days.
There are also other conversations that ring true in the story, particularly between Poole and his roommate, Dawkins. Whether they're talking about music, weed, or women, the dialogue is dead on for the 70's. The college kid vs. townie dynamic is accurate, having witnessed it myself in the small towns of Western Connecticut. Vorhaus knows people and how they interact. Each character, major and minor, is finely crafted. He has a mastery of dialogue and characterization that strikes me as effortless.
The one problem I had was with the ending. At first, I was shocked and confused. It took a couple read throughs and some thought before it clicked. It wasn't the ending I was expecting, but as I reflected on the course Poole took, it made sense.
Poole's Paradise is a solid coming of age story set in the 70's. With a well-rounded cast of characters and accurate dialogue, Vorhaus places the reader smack dab in the middle of the most important days of Alexander Poole's life. Whether you fondly recall vinyl, want to know what college life was like for your parents, or just enjoy stories with realistic characters, Poole's Paradise is for you.
For more information about Poole's Paradise, check out the author's website.