Review: St. Nacho’s — by Z.A. Maxfield

Other Reviewers: Goodreads

Intro:

This book is in the reading cycle because of how it affected me.  It touched my “favorite” fears both in fiction and real life.  For me, this blog is both about what books I thought were good, but also ones that affected me profoundly, either positively or negatively.  In this case, it is an all-positive response.

If you want to scare me or creep me out, do it not by saying “boo”, but by demonstrating a loss of control or a “mind fuck”.  Books that deal with an unjustly incarceration in an insane asylum or doing something that clearly is a brainwashing situation (against your better judgment for someone else) always freaks me out.  I just want to say: “get the heck out of there!”

Basic Plot:

Cooper Wyatt is a musician who is down on his luck, traveling for the last three years after a traumatic event in his hometown.  He spent his youth intoxicated and out of control, his recent nomadic ways his attempt to escape his guilt and pain of those actions.  But as he runs into St. Nacho’s, he discovers it hard to move on.  He meets Shawn here, the attraction profound enough that perhaps it is time to accept his past and commit to his new life.

Background:

I have read quite a bit of Z.A. Maxfield’s work, but I began with her single titles.  Often they are emotionally stark and striking, not exactly happy fun-time novels.  This series (Currently 4 books), are all in first-person, which actually caused me to ignore it for several months.  I absolutely hate first-person, no matter how great the writing.  I always feel like I am missing a perspective and it becomes less movie-like in my  mind as I read.  I have found a disturbing trend of first-person (or third but really it is first-person) in male/male writing, so I suppose I will have to get used to reading that style.

Cooper Wyatt:

This is our first-person perspective; so much of the character development seen is through his eyes.   I do not want to go into what the mysterious “past trauma” is but Cooper is still influenced by it and feels as if he does not deserve happiness.  At the beginning of the novel, we see him entering St. Nacho’s and we see how this seemingly inanimate object of a town slowly stops the rolling stone.

St. Nacho’s is almost like a constant character throughout the series because of how it ties our men together, drawing our lost souls into her arms.  I rather enjoyed it, it was borderline “supernatural”, but not more than we can handle.

Cooper is our “bad boy”, but what is fascinating is that he is more than that, he is a brilliant musician who is a tortured soul.  Yes, he is buff and tattooed, but exterior does not make the man.  Early one there is a quote that I love that to me symbolizes this story in a nutshell:

Well.  When a cosmic joke like that comes your way, you have to laugh.  Amber Eyes was probably the first guy in three years who I saw in color, and he was deaf.  And me?  The only human language I had anymore was music.

So we have Cooper who reaches out to others through music and that strength is now a weakness in making love to Shawn.  When Cooper goes back to his hometown to support an old friend, he has to say goodbye to his new budding love and happiness.  As a reader, we are frustrated by this misguided sacrifice and it leads into my fear that I referenced before.

Shawn:

We do not really get a lot of character development on Shawn, which I believe is the result of our first-person narrative.  He is a waiter at St. Nacho’s bar (where Cooper lands) and he is a part-time student, who is deaf.  What I like about Shawn is his quiet steadiness.  His character reminds me of those actors in movies who can say so much by just their facial moves and body language.  Shawn says little, but we get to know him so well.  We see how much of a support he is to Cooper, especially toward the end of the novel.  Their first meeting:

“Thank you for helping me,” he said, using the most utterly unmusical voice I’d ever heard and his hands.  It was as if he couldn’t talk without using both.  Couldn’t or wouldn’t.  I detected a hint of something defiant in the way he looked at me.

What we find is the unexpected, Shawn is the dominate in the relationship, not some weakened disabled deaf person.  The author could have gone through some sort of tropey, “oh he’s deaf so that means he will be the guy who will be ‘saved’ “.  But rather, we see Shawn’s inner strength and determination that makes him Cooper’s savior.

Theme Summary:

To me, this is about personal responsibility, but both sides of the coin.  A quote:

 “And what if we were all to abdicate our responsibility?  Excuse ourselves from the process and just let others take the fall?”

Cooper is profoundly guilty about his past, taking on more responsibility than is truly his.  So to me, there is a balance between taking responsibility for your actions and taking too much.  Yes, to be a hero means to be honest and step up, but at some point you have to let go and realize that you cannot control everything and you cannot take on everyone else’s pain and sins on yourself.

Strong Points:

I liked how the author dealt with the musician/deaf person interactions.  The scenes with the violin were extremely emotionally charged that were enhanced because of  Shawn’s deafness.  I also loved the way that Ms. Maxfield handled the communication:  a combination of cell phones, talking, and sign language.

As mentioned before, the emotional tension of Cooper going back to his hometown to support his friend added a non-relationship tension for complexity of story.

What could be better?

Being a person who does have faith, I always get nervous when books make the religious person a “psycho weirdo”.  Not all spiritual people are bigots and narrow-minded, and I hate that some authors just paint such an one-dimensional character.  While this author not exactly paint a blanket “Christian bad” picture, I still got that negative connotation with Stan and his followers.

My other issue was with the previously  mentioned first-person perspective.  I think that the first-person limitation hurt the character development of Shawn.  Also, the book was rather short at 131 pages, if we had flipped back and forth between their perspectives we could have gotten more book and more development.

Conclusions:

Overall, I enjoyed this book; I certainly loved the theme and the character development we see in Cooper.  The feeling of St. Nacho’s being almost a character and how it is the central part of the series added something special.  If you can get past the first-person aspect, then I think you will enjoy this book.

Bea

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