Posted by: Blue Horizon Books | January 29, 2021

Jon Bunn’s “Shoal’s Bluff”

Talk about a labor of love! Jon Bunn’s new novel, Shoals Bluff, was three years in the making—one year for him to write it, and then two more years for him to revise it a bit, and me to edit it a lot, and Dawn Daisley to design it, and then publish it through Jon’s publishing arm, Mayhaw Press, using IngramSpark as the printer/distributor.

When Jon first told me about the story he wanted to write—about this old guy he met one time back in the 60s in southern Indiana, the man’s physical afflictions, and the other family and worldly afflictions the old man had endured, and yet was still living, working, alive—I knew it was a saga, a birth-to-death story of the life of a semi-fictional character. But in the first telling, it sounded like a rather sad story of just one damn thing after another that happened to this poor guy. And who would want to read that? (Except of course, those who would want to read Shakespeare’s Hamlet, John Irving’s The World According to Garp, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons, or even Dicken’s David Copperfield to marvel at the particular struggles one character faces, and what gives that character the strength to go on).

All that labor over this story was well worth the effort. The reviews are still coming in, but already the story of Paul Chandler of Shoals, Indiana obviously resonates with a lot of people, especially those who understand what it was like to grow up in southern Indiana. Especially if that reader or their relatives had farming blood in their veins. And especially if they—or their parents or grandparents—had eked out a living from the land in the first half of the 20th century, a period that included the First World War, the Roaring Twenties, the stock market crash of 1929, and the ensuing Depression and Dust Bowl years—in which the Ku Klux Klan and the Women’s Temperance Union flourished—only to be followed by World War II and the somewhat prosperous post-war years. All of these are part of Paul Chandler’s life in Shoals Bluff, and the lives of the characters who populate this novel set in and around Shoals, Indiana (current population about 789; population then about 1,030).

Here’s the thing: Jon’s story is not just about all the downs and ups suffered by the key character, Paul Chandler, or even the travails of his long-suffering and supportive mother. Though Paul Chandler experienced a tragedy early on, resulting in lameness in one leg for the rest of his life (a tragedy closely related to the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father), Shoals Bluff is also very much about how small communities become close-knit, and how neighbors rely on other neighbors to get through life, and how farmers as entrepreneurs are very innovative when it comes to figuring how to make the most of their most important asset, the patch of earth they call their own.

Jon Bunn’s background in the theater shows in this novel, as well as his first novel, The West Bluff—his scenes and characters are vivid, and his dialogue is a significant part in driving the plot along. He’s a born storyteller, and I can hardly wait for his next novel, which I am certain is already brewing in his brain as I write this.

PS: If you ever run into Jon, ask him to tell you about the Wise sisters, to whom he dedicated his book!

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