How many times, in the course of growing up, are we told by our mothers, our fathers, our teachers and various adults in our lives, “Never judge a book by its cover.” As far as adages go, this one is universal. As a mom with children of my own, I know I’ve said it to them. And still, how easy it is to fall into the trap and judge.
When I received my Advance Reading Copy of Powder Dreams by David Ward-Nanney, I took one look at the cover and decided I didn’t like the typeface. I flipped it over and decided I didn’t like the text on the back. I still don’t like either, but I really enjoyed reading David’s novel. I couldn’t put it down. Here’s why.
1) Powder Dreams is about a lot more than skiing.
While skiing and the life of a young ski bum Bo Grayson provide the back story to the protagonist’s early 20s, the book doesn’t dwell on the powder, the drugs or the terrible living conditions endemic to the ski bum life. The novel spans the 1980s through the mid-2000s, and Bo is only a ski bum for eight years.
Ward-Nanney recounts this time with an economical eye for detail that borders on the autobiographical. For anyone who has skied or lived in the Colorado and Utah mountains, it feels like coming home. Reading it, I thought to myself, “I know this guy and he knows those mountains.” Not Bo, the main character, but David Ward-Nanney, the author.
2) Powder Dreams is about learning to distinguish between fantasy and reality.
In a passage early in the book, Bo has hitchhiked home to Tennessee to attend the funeral of an elderly friend and mentor. Bo reunites with his closest friend from childhood, by now a self-made millionaire (or more) and his boarding school shrink, Dr. Kalb. Bo recounts,
I tried to explain the beauty of Colorado in the winter and exactly what I’d been up to….”Fantasyland,” (Dr. Kalb) had called the resort atmosphere of the Rockies. “I know,” I finally said, “it sounds like a frivolous existence.”
Dr. Kalb put a hand on my shoulder and asked, “Are you having fun?”
“Yes,” I said. “I am.”
“Don’t worry about it. Just go and have fun,” he said. “You’ve got plenty of time to grow up. I meant the comment as a long term warning. Don’t ever forget that it is Fantasyland.”
We drank a toast to growing up on our own terms.
The irony of Powder Dreams and what makes it such a compelling story is that Fantasyland can be anywhere. For a while Bo perfects his fantasy in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon. Later, his fantasy lies in searching out the next big deal where money can be made hand-over-fist in the (for Bo at least) soul-stealing world of finance.
As Bo connects throughout the years with his childhood friends, he is humbled by their success and vows to reach a similar level of material wealth. He trades in the Rockies for Chicago — to seek higher education and eventually to land job as a trader on the Mercantile Exchange.
3) Powder Dreams is rooted in psychological theory, but the story reigns supreme.
Depressed, pasty from too-much time in the city, and quickly becoming a drunk, Bo decides to see an analyst. In one of his early sessions with Dr. Attfield, they have this exchange.
“What do you feel nostalgic about?”
“Could you be more specific?”
“I used to spend everyday in the mountains. I woke up to the mountains, went to sleep with them in the background. I played and worked in the mountains….”
“Why did you leave them?”
“I thought it was time to grown up.”
“Fair enough. How is growing up going?”
“Fine,” I answered.
“How would you define growing up?”
“Taking on responsibilities. Doing meaningful work. Um. Making money.”
Bo has forgotten about growing up on his own terms.
Later in the book, as the Dr. Attfield’s usefulness wanes and Bo’s world changes in a flash of lightning from benign to threatening, he realizes that
The desire for money was beyond an appetite for the latest Molecular Cuisine concoction. It was far beyond German-engineered cars and big houses. We all wanted to make money for some other reason and the answer did not come easily to mind. It was a craving, an inexplicable craving.
It was also ultimately, a fantasy.
With the exception of a few dense paragraphs explaining Jungian theory, Powder Dreams never loses momentum and moves far beyond psychological introspection. Crime, morality and ill-gotten gains raise their heads and as Powder Dreams draws to a close, there is real suspense. Of course, there is also a girl and in the character of Abby, Bo meets either his undoing or his salvation. I’m not telling which. You’ll have to read the book.
Despite my initial judgment, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Powder Dreams. It is complex, but not overwhelming, and the story moves easily. The characters are sympathetic and real. I still don’t think the text on the back cover does the book justice nor really compels readers to pick it up. But if you’re willing to take a flyer on this self-published author, David Ward-Nanney’s Powder Dreams is a fun flight through psychology, love and life.
Powder Dreams, published by Mud Season Publishing. Available at Amazon.com.
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