When I was reading SOMEWHERE FAST, the experiences of Dr. John Calvin seemed familiar to me because I've known a few characters like him. Written in the intimate first-person, Calvin is in the middle of a personal life crisis. He buys a Harley Davidson Road King Classic and decides to make the trip of a lifetime --- not only for the trip itself but to discover some keys to life along the way. From his home in Chicago, Calvin decides to ride his motorcycle along Route 66.
From the first sentence I was hooked on this page-turning life drama. "Journal-September 11: I once heard someone say that a man spends the first forty-five years of his life building a tower --- only to discover that he has built it against the wrong wall. It somehow seems fitting that I'm starting this journey on 9/11, the anniversary of the day the towers came down…It's an image that provides a perfect metaphor for the last five years of my life."
From reading Calvin's journey, you begin to learn more about the man. At one time he was married and was the senior pastor of a large, thriving church. Then, through a series of choices, life fell apart until his marriage and his church evaporated. While riding his Harley, Calvin searches for answers and makes significant stops along the route.
His first visit is with Dr. Julius Leppick, an 89-year-old retired professor. The two men talk about the journey of life and the older man pulls out a napkin and draws a simple illustration. Ascent leads upward with descent or the wisdom journey leading downward. And crisis is inserted in the middle of the journey. Calvin wonders about his place in this journey, tucks the napkin away, and heads further along Route 66. In Missouri, he meets another older man, Joseph Monroe, who adds an additional element to the napkin illustration: initiation. It's where a boy learns to become a man.
Traveling into the Ozarks, Calvin meets Rev. William Wolf and their discussion adds another element about life to the napkin. During the period right before crisis, Wolf adds self-identity to the simple drawing. Whenever an element is added, Calvin is engaged in another fascinating discussion about the key issues of life.
In Kansas, Calvin picks up a hitchhiker named Nikki. She travels with him for another section of the Route. When they go in different directions, Nikki makes Calvin promise to meet with a Catholic priest in New Mexico.
Throughout the physical and spiritual journey, Calvin doesn't answer every question or solve every problem. This gives a realistic bent to the overall novel, whose storyline simply points the reader in solid directions. I picked up this book with plans to read only a few pages and see what it contained. On the surface it looked to have the potential of being too internal in the head of a lone motorcycle rider. Instead, debut novelist Bob Beltz surprised me with the adventures of his character and the revealing answers from his journey. Before long I was turning the last page. It has great reader interest and is something I recommend to learn more about the life struggle with faith. I hope this book catches on with searching people as well as motorcycle enthusiasts. It is well-done and highly recommended.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on September 6, 2005