This was one of the most profound reading experiences of my life. It is a book that I would compare, for a number of reasons, including quality, to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. It is one of, if not the best told novel I have read. There are three narrators, each telling their story in the first person. They are Linc, Wub, and Manny, and the trio of youngsters constitute a group called, well, ‘The Tumbleweeds.’ Don’t get me wrong, although it is told from the perspective of 3 kids, it is a very mature book, and the characters grow throughout. As their friendship crumbles, we see their perspectives on life and each other, altered. What I think gives tremendous merit to the novel is that there are no quick fixes, nothing is ever simple, and life takes its toll.
The neighborhood in which the Tumbleweeds reside, referred to as ‘the nabe,’ is the background of their lives, and as they change it retains its ebb and flow. In time, the Tumbleweeds either grow out of it, or it consumes them, that is all I will say in that regard. The main character, I would say, is Manny Kohl. He is the first and last voice of the book and his journey into manhood will bend and perhaps break the reader. There is nothing quite like this book, I could not call it gritty. I have read my share of gritty books, which kill off characters for shock value, and leave you with a cold, numb ache like you were punched in the schnoz. But Tumbleweeds is not a cold book, it is very sensitive, yet shows the harshest parts of life. There is nothing in there just for the sake of it, nothing seems to happen just as a plot device, what occurs does so randomly, and retroactively acquires meaning through the eyes of our narrators. And with every shaking of the tree of life, more fruit falls. In other words, everything that happens feeds the development of the characters, for good or bad.
I want every writer to read this novel because there is so much to learn from it: how to subvert clichés, how to write a fight scene, how to distinguish voice, how to write dialogue, how to compose an organic plot. I could go on. One thing which some people might see as a flaw is the manner in which kids are portrayed in Tumbleweeds, in that they are very aware of life and not as naive as we might expect, but I don’t think this potential criticism would be justified. I think we imagine kids, as adults, to be more childish than they really are. We forget the way we perceive the world as kids. In reality, we are the blueprints for the people we will become, and this, I feel is really the centermost theme of the book. The man Manny Kohl will become is outlined herein, as a writer of the future, the man who would one day write this book, the first of a Quartet.
The real writer, however, is Dan Schneider, and this is an interesting example of playing with meta techniques, because Manny Kohl- in the introduction to the next book, The Vincetti Brothers– explains that Dan Schneider is only a pen name, but there is a hint that he may also be a real character in the world of the novel. More on The Vincetti Brothers in my upcoming review, but I bring up the fictive authorship of Tumbleweeds to point out that, while we seem to get 3 different POVs in the novel, there is in reality only one and the sections of Linc and Wub are in fact only the projections of Manny Kohl.
In this, and numerous ways, Tumbleweeds is one of the most complex and brilliant novels that has ever been conceived, and it is executed perfectly. Another, unfortunately, unpublished work by its prolific author. I hope that this review will contribute, in some way, to the awareness of his work. Promoting underappreciated writers is, however, a nice change from denouncing overrated hacks that are all too common these days.