Book Jacket

 

rank 1240
word count 77167
date submitted 17.01.2012
date updated 10.09.2013
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
classification: moderate
incomplete

City of Refuge

Joe Brooks

Forty years of life shaped by death...and donkey basketball.

 

The dead began to speak to him, at first, each in turn, then in a riot of
cacophonous discord, calling to him as he passed. "Stop," they cried,
"consider me! Look upon me. Consider my life."

In 1981, James Matthews was a vibrant, inquisitive ten year old boy, just setting out to explore his tiny share of the universe in small town Oklahoma. When he loses his beloved older brother in a tragic accident at the local lake, he is set on a course for the next three decades that leaves him alone: separated from family, friends, even himself and denying the value of life itself. That is, until one day when he is finally confronted with the undeniable choice that forces him to choose between life and death.

City of Refuge chronicles one man’s life, beset by the walls and roadblocks of his own construction.

 
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tags

coming-of-age, death, family, grief, life, maturity, mortatlity

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46 comments

 

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Lara wrote 278 days ago

This is a compelling theme, grief of a growing young man. The opening chapter is descriptive and symbolic. The novel gets increasingly sad and we fear James will end up a hermit. Well done.

Rosalind Minett
A RELATIVE INVASION
SPEECHLESS

djchorus wrote 431 days ago

I knew I had to read your book when your long pitch mentioned playing Donkey Basketball. I've played a game of Donkey Basketball, one of many instances of poor judgement on my part during my life. I am intimately familiar with small towns that struggle to hold onto their identity (and survival).
You do a nice job creating memorable characters and that, in my experience, are completely believeable. I'm intrigued by what you propose to accomplish in the pages of your book. I have not read it all, but have enjoyed every word I've read.
I would suggest you look in chapter three at a description that seems to have the "frightened crowd swiveling around the room" rather than having the man brandishing the machine gun doing the swiveling.
I'm putting this one on my WL and moving to bookshelf as soon as room appears.
- David Johnson
"Tucker's Way"

rikasworld wrote 488 days ago

Ave,
I loved your first chapter. The walking through the cemetery hearing the voices of the dead works beautifully. I read up to chapter 7 where I think James' story really begins again. The background of Konawa was well developed and I certainly got a clear picture of the world James grew up in - small, town, full of eccentric characters, pretty rough.
I can't really crit. as I didn't see anything that needed changing. I wondered if the development was a bit slow but actually, I think that's just because it is split into tiny chapters for authonomy. The pacing seems right.
High stars.

Sara Whistance wrote 494 days ago

Thank you for the invitation to read your book. I read the first four chapters with ease. ' Quaint' is a word that popped into my mind as I read your descriptions of Konawa. I think there are some wry, humourous moments; I rather liked the last two sentences of chapter four! I will read more when I've got a moment.

brooksjk wrote 498 days ago

I'm still stunned that this book hasn't made it higher in the rankings yet. Oh well, those of us who have stumbled onto it are well aware of the quality of writing contained herein. So warm and heartbreaking, funny and tragic. Its the natural arc of the human condition writ in prose.



Thanks, Wango! I'm not too concerned about the rankings.

brooksjk wrote 498 days ago

Ah, the adult James is looking to be so passive-aggresive. He's losing the spark he had as a teen, and certainly that he exhibited as a young boy. But, I guess that's the whole point! I can almost envision a physical change in him: bent over, tired looking, fading away, the epitome of existential hopelessness.



Thanks, Yo! I'm glad you are enjoying James' despair and ennui! :)~

yoyoma wrote 498 days ago

Ah, the adult James is looking to be so passive-aggresive. He's losing the spark he had as a teen, and certainly that he exhibited as a young boy. But, I guess that's the whole point! I can almost envision a physical change in him: bent over, tired looking, fading away, the epitome of existential hopelessness.

wangotango wrote 503 days ago

I'm still stunned that this book hasn't made it higher in the rankings yet. Oh well, those of us who have stumbled onto it are well aware of the quality of writing contained herein. So warm and heartbreaking, funny and tragic. Its the natural arc of the human condition writ in prose.

yoyoma wrote 504 days ago

What a sad tale this is turning out to be. I mean, I know that it was about grief and the death of a loved one, but to have a character as sweet and as open to life as James was in the beginning, and then to see him turn so cold and selfish is heartbreaking. The writing is, as always, immaculate. I mean, there are typos and grammatical issues here and there, but not enough to distract from the tale. I'm sure another round of proofing and revising is on the horizon, anyway! :)

James is on such a downward trend as he gets older, that one hopes for a turnaround, but the final paragraph of the first section takes on new meaning, he kicked the water and spread his image across the face of the darkness. Things have turned harrowing, but its not fantasy nonsense. Its the real sort of darkness and depression that anyone can experience.

I'm truly attached to James so I hope he can right his ship before too long!

immaccon wrote 504 days ago

It just hit me what this reminds me of, first Appointment in Samarra, as I mentioned previously, but also Saul Bellow's Sieze the Day. Your writing style is very much like that of Bellow's, the character of Tommy Wilhelm and James seem to have a lot in common. Granted, Sieze the Day is so short that Bellow doesn't really delve too deeply into his backstory or how his psyche came about, but the final scene of the book (at the funeral) and the story arc of his desperation and alienation and failure, I see that in City of Refuge, only deeper and more fleshed out.

Now, I REALLY like this book! :)

immaccon wrote 504 days ago

I'm finally up-to-date on my reading and this is still really pulling me along into the story. I say 'story' not in the traditional sense because there is no one plot, but many smaller plotlines that carry certain themes along with them: alienation (self), family, faith (of a sort), isolation, and so many others.

I felt sad for the young James in the first section, but then I saw, in vivid portraiture, in the second how the tragedies of the the first section had sort of rewired him. You dislike him, but you pity him. Its truly gripping in that it is a great setup for the despair that is to come in the next part.

The adult James is not so different from the teenage James, but there is a sort of Appointment at Samarra feel about where it seems to be heading.

A job well done and keep it up!

Celine Zabel wrote 506 days ago

Joe,

Your first chapter is a home run. It totally encaptures the dead and those left behind. The following 4 chapters that I read are also wonderful, nicely developing the characters with enough diaologue and description, to give a nice "novelly" flow in all senses. Keep up the great work!

Celine Zabel
Lives Shattered: One Mother's Loss at the Hands of the Legal System

levielm wrote 519 days ago

First impressions: great read. You build character sketches like no one else. Bartholomew really lives in chapter 2, you bring out the best-worst of him. Well done w characterization.

The first chapter was almost mystical, maybe even ethereal in its hazy sort of way in which the protagonist interacts with the dead. I like it. Was it meant to be a prologue?

Writing style is clean and precise with such attention made to word choice and sentence structure.

Will return to read more this week. Best JK

Oh, I am adding this book to my list of Zinger great openings. J

wangotango wrote 520 days ago

Just finished reading the completed chapters in the the second section and I love the format, rather than being a continuous narrative, its vignettes that capture the character of of the people and how they'e been forever altered by the tragedy in the the first section. You see the "darkness" in James that he stared into at the end of the first section. Its a harrowing, but sublime, descent in selfishness. Bravo so far!

Debbie R wrote 523 days ago

Joe

I read the beginning of this a few months back so have read chaps 4, 5 and 6.
The lines from the Catullus poem took me back to Latin lessons - perfect choice for your story.
Your description of character and place are wonderfully rich and 'real'. The dialogue is strong and both characters and dialogue really move your story along in a warm, natural rhythm of the era you are describing.
The image of Charles sitting out an impending storm with a whimpering dog by his side is made all the more powerful when his body is later discovered 2 miles away. You have a knack of saying a lot with few words.

Chapter 4 ends with Paul meeting Evelyn and then chapter 5 introduces us to James Matthews, their son. We learn about the death of Stephen when James is ten-years-old. I thought your reference to his mother making chocolate nut bars when she heard the news and how his aunt carried on making them was a nice touch. And then the fact that no one ate them.

Wonderful description of James' sense of freedom as he explores the neighbourhood on his bike. You capture his sense of excitement and convey his rite of passage to venture further from home each time he goes out.

The image of James standing up on the pedals of his bike waiting to speed over a bump that was worthy of Evil Knevil, is another great piece of description. I also liked the school yard confrontation between James and Terry The Weasel.

I can't find anything negative to say about this. The vocab is rich, the characters and dialogue strong and believable. You have the ability to create such a powerful sense of time and place with a strong sense of generations living and dying and leaving their mark on the land.

Your writing reminds me of Annie Proulx in that the environment is intricately drawn into the lives of your characters.

Top stars and keeping this on my w/l until I have room on my shelf.

Debbie
'Speedy McCready'

Cdnclassic wrote 548 days ago

+ Well that was actually quite a relief to find high quality work around here. I was not exactly sure what to expect of Authonomy at first because there seems to be quite a mixed bag of talent and genres that do not necessarily appeal to the squeamish sort. Kudos to you on a job very well done. Thank you for alerting me to your presence.

Pastor Michelle.

Stark Silvercoin wrote 554 days ago

City of Refuge is true literary fiction, the kind of book that says a lot about people and places, and about the time and setting. It’s not written very much anymore these days. There are a few Great American Novelists here and there, and a few more on the international scene. Unfortunately the world is obsessed with thrillers and young adult tales, or graphic novels made whole. The non-plot driven nature of these classic tales are too old fashion for the modern age, except in rare exceptions.

I think author Joe Brooks’ City of Refuge could be one of those. Brooks tackles a tale spanning decades, with many characters both minor and major. All are treated with respect and end up as believable examples which I think represent a larger group, or type of person, in this melancholy affair.

City of Refuge also has a strong sense of place, and that is as important as anything else in a story like this. It’s as much about the town and community as it is about the main character James Matthews.

Certainly City of Refuge is a slow burn, but those who would enjoy such a tale won’t care. The novel is publishable for sure, and should achieve commercial success following the critical acclaim it’s likely to achieve. I’d like to reserve my copy now.

John Breeden II
Old Number Seven

tarasimone wrote 562 days ago

I will admit to finding this hard going for the first little while. As the story progressed, I found it easier. I think my primary problem was that I have not read a lot of literary fiction in the past, and as such, am used to a more plot driven story.

I found the writing easy to read and understand, and well phrased.

Definitely interested in where the rest of the book goes...

First four chapters, connection? I still didn't work this out, I was going to go back over and see if I could figure it, but haven't done so as yet.

Tara
Wife to Brett, Dark Matter

Here are a few typos I found.
Ch5
Mayberry

When your ten years old and venturing a little further away from your home every time you go out
you're

Ch7
If his mom new he was
knew

Ch9
It was then that Stephen had first seen the nude female form
James?

Ch17
He decided to rid down the
ride

Ch21
getting him to pullover so they
pull over

Ch22
cow patties out there, ya here!”
hear

Ch24
Where you guys from? Really? No, were from…”
we're?

Take one or the team.”
for

yoyoma wrote 565 days ago

I've gone back and read the chapters you've added since last time and I am completely enthralled by the direction this novel is taking. This truly is a different type of novel, classic in once sense but totally new in another. It is certainly different that anything on the market now. True literature!

Lynne Heffner Ferrante wrote 570 days ago

This is an incredibly well written story, grabs the reader immediately with detail and carefully planned and executed construction, cleverly injects questions into the information being offered so that it becomes impossible to put down the book. Everything comes together, background, history, characters, creating more and more interest and connection. I am totally hooked, and intend to read it all until the end. Starred and I will back you asap. Best of luck, Lynne Heffner Ferrante, An Untenable Fragrance of Violets

ShirleyGrace wrote 571 days ago

Realclub review
Joe:
I read this sometime ago and thought I commented but I don't see it so will share again. I got a 'hair standing on the back of my neck feeling' in the graveyard. Death and the reaction to it is handled by different people in different ways. I once knew a woman who lost a member of her family and did nothing but clean house over and over for weeks. The one or ones left might feel "guilty" as they are still alive. It's just too much to deal with.I guess some get on a self-destruction kick. I got into your work and starred it well.
Shirley Grace
The Devil's Stepchild

AtkAnd1 wrote 572 days ago

I've read the first 6 chapters of this novel and I have to say this is a fantastic read and a fantastic piece of work.
The opening chapter is vivid and haunting, though not without a sense of morbid humour about it.
The next few chapters intertwining the development of a town with that of a family is well written, a fantastic idea, and sets the scene very well.
The characters are funny and yet vividly real at the same time, and you develop and describe them very well.
Nothing to add, and this is a fantastic piece of work, good luck getting it published as it definitely is something that would do well.
Any comments you could add to my book would be welcome.
Well done and I greatly enjoyed reading this.
Andrew

miacia7 wrote 579 days ago

I love the style. I wish the first chapter would tell me about the story, drag me in....

schild wrote 585 days ago

Your novel reminds me of a book I'm currently reading: West of Here. That novel spans many years about a general area in the U.S.A just as your story does. I find your narrative writing professional and dialogue very realistic. Love your pace and descriptions. Read 5 chapters so far. Backed with high stars.
David Schild

yoyoma wrote 588 days ago



I have read only chapter one since I'm off out - but wow. There's something I really like about this. I like how you go straight into the story, I like the voice - that style that somehow manages to remove the writer and be more like listening to an internal storyteller. I didn't realise from the pitch when it was set, but I think the gravitas of the vocablulary and phrasing is perfect for the time and place you have set it in.

immaccon wrote 588 days ago

Finally got around to reading the rest and I can't wait to see more! Really, really love what you're doing here.

wangotango wrote 588 days ago

The opening chapter totally blew me away. Very intense and filled with pathos. The next few chapters kind of dragged a bit, but I see the importance of them to the whole of the story. The rest, about James and his life, is just fantastic. The imagery of his life in the small town is keenly represented and the tragedy of Stephen's death and James' descent sets the rest of the book up nicely.

Good Work!

Wango ze Tango!!!

Sara Stinson wrote 598 days ago

Hi Joe,

I have read the first two chapters. What a haunting yet intriguing opening in first chapter. The reader sees James at 40. He is visiting the graveyard. You describe the place. It gives a sad and grim feel. Then on to chapter two meeting Elizabeth. James' character builds and other characters are introduced. Your writing style is easy to read and to me, almost poetic. Your grammar and spelling great. You definitely set the hook for me. This promises to be an awesome book enjoyed by many.
Lots of stars for you!
Sara Stinson :)
Finger Bones

immaccon wrote 600 days ago

Can't wait to read the new chapters!

strachan gordon wrote 601 days ago

Interesting to bring in the assassination of President Garfield , the only time I can recollect this happening , although he does feature as a character in a couple of Gore Vidal's novels . Beautifully written , your style is clear and concise and is perfectly suited to the information it conveys.Watchlisted and starred.Would you be able to look at the first chapter of my novel ' A Buccaneer' which is set amongst Pirates in the 17th century , with best wishes from Strachan Gordon.

Elvin J Mensah wrote 603 days ago

Such a haunting first three chapters--I think 'captivating' is an understatement and I can't wait to read through the rest. The writing style is immaculate, so poetic, poignant and chilling. You can tell your choice of words are very well considered. The enigma behind the character Bartholomew in the second chapter is really interesting--the way you describe him as a 'man to be avoided' and also not a particuarly bad man made me desperate to find out more about him. Such a thrilling read.

immaccon wrote 604 days ago

The first chapter was truly moving, almost poetic in style.

The next few chapters, laying out the history of the area is fascinating and funny.

the story of the young boy is well written and really lays a good foundation for the story to come.

I can't wait to read more!

DDickson wrote 608 days ago

Absolutely stunning first chapter – really it was passionate and mesmerising and thoughtful and really quite terrible.

Lovely flow and pace to this, and I do appreciate the tongue in cheek humour. I am swept along by the tale.

I can find nothing whatever negative to say, I truly believe that this is one of the best works that I have seen on the site. If I had bought it in a bookshop I would have been more than content.

The way that you have drawn these people, tying them all together and placing them in towns I have never seen in a country I have only visited once, and then given a reality and life and made me care about them is wonderful. I really love this work.

Although many of the names and technicalities of the wrestling were totally beyond my knowledge the tension and the atmosphere in the playground were nonetheless palpable and real. It could be that for readers, such as myself, there is slightly too much jargon but nonetheless it did work but this is the first part of the work that I haven’t been totally enthralled in.

The build up of tension as James is playing around the park and the pool is quite simply delicious and I fully expected some sort of drama, however I wasn’t discommoded when there was none as the whole book carries a layer of tension, probably because we already know that there is a disaster to occur and we are simply drawing closer and closer.

(ch 8 you have whole in the ground rather than hole)

I think that the dialogue around the table is spot on, just enough antagonism to make it real and the little boy trying to get some accurate information that makes sense to him. Likewise his torment at the hands of his brother in the bedroom is so very lifelike.

(ch 10 you have Ira saying “I’d just assume dunk my donut” – I think that may be it should be “I’d just as soon.”

Well I am going to shelve this of course and wish you the very best of luck with it – I think it is really one of the best things I have read on Authonomy. – Cheers – Diane

(I'm popping in to edit this for the avoidance of doubt - when I used the word terrible I meant it in the wonderful original meaning - full of horror and fear and fright - the dead clamouring in the graveyard was - to my mind - quite terrible)

Wanttobeawriter wrote 609 days ago

CITY OF REFUGE
This is a story with a great ominous feel to it in the beginning: a man who hears voices from the dead calling to him. I liked James a lot; the way you make it clear how a brother’s death affected his life very clear. I also like the way this is not only a story about people but the growth of an Oklahoma town. Gives it more depth than the average story. A good read, I’m starring this and adding it to my shelf. Wanttobeawriter: Who Killed the President?

patio wrote 614 days ago

Sorry, I can't read anymore of this. I'm scared. The author sent a ghost to my house. Not good cos my partner is away and I am here alone. How am I going to sleep tonight? I wont. Well, not in this house. I'm going out. The author kicked me out of my house. But all good, from a good book viewpoint. This story is right up my street, though I'm pissing my pants. High stars

Abby Vandiver wrote 616 days ago

The font is definitely too small. With that said. This is very good. It is well written and keeps the reader interested. In the first chapter I love how the dead is calling out to him. I think that the end of the chapter drags a bit, but the reader is engrossed by then. Still you may want to look at that.

I like the quick history of Bartholomew, his fantastic stories and drinking. With that it's amazing he got Elizabeth. I'm not sure how this fits in with the first chapter but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Very good job.

brooksjk wrote 622 days ago

Shelby,

Thanks for the comment and I promise you the rest of the story is considerable less grim!

Also, your Driving Winds is currently on my bookshelf :)


This is a grim feel to it as it opens. The draws the reader.
The images are clear as the feelings are also deep.
The story itself I am not to sure about, but I do like the way your open your book with this eerie chapter it is a real hook.
Good work!

Shelby Z./Driving Winds

P.S. Please take a look at my Christian pirate adventure Driving Winds.

Shelby Z. wrote 622 days ago

This is a grim feel to it as it opens. The draws the reader.
The images are clear as the feelings are also deep.
The story itself I am not to sure about, but I do like the way your open your book with this eerie chapter it is a real hook.
Good work!

Shelby Z./Driving Winds

P.S. Please take a look at my Christian pirate adventure Driving Winds.

brooksjk wrote 627 days ago

Hello, Joe, finally got around to reading your book; and what a book! You have such a strong, intriguing and very engrossing start here. Your descriptions are good and it's very polished, I only noticed one slight nit pick but feel free to ignore, it's just my opinion:

Stop, they cried, consider me!...
Speech marks should be inserted here because it's been spoken.

I really enjoyed reading this and can't believe that it's not got more support yet on the site. Highly starred and on my shelf at the next shuffle. All the best, well done.



Thank for you kind words (and your nitpick:)!

As far as the lack of support, I don't think I'm very good at self-promotion : )

Emma.L.H. wrote 627 days ago

Hello, Joe, finally got around to reading your book; and what a book! You have such a strong, intriguing and very engrossing start here. Your descriptions are good and it's very polished, I only noticed one slight nit pick but feel free to ignore, it's just my opinion:

Stop, they cried, consider me!...
Speech marks should be inserted here because it's been spoken.

I really enjoyed reading this and can't believe that it's not got more support yet on the site. Highly starred and on my shelf at the next shuffle. All the best, well done.

Debbie R wrote 631 days ago

Joe, I have read the first 2 chapters and what hit my very quickly is that you can certainly tell a story.

A wonderfully written and humorous start with the Bartholomew. He is a great character and you describe him so well through the scrapes he gets himself into and the manner in which he meets his future wife.
I liked the image of him removing pellets from his rear.

Chapter 2 takes us further on in the lives of Elizabeth and Bartholomew. This has a real sense of time and place which gives your writing a good depth.
Quite a few new characters are introduced here and I will be reading more to find out where they fit into the story.
I liked the scene where the bank is raided and one of the robbers stuffs a twenty-dollar bill into Joseph's coat pocket.
You deftly move the story towards more modern times by the end of this chapter.

One thing in chap 2 - 'Abigail and Joseph Davis stood in line and waited their turn in line' This jars a little and I wonder if you actually need the second 'in line'.

This is well-written and has a good flow to it. Some wonderful characterization with a balanced smattering of humour.
I think this will do well for you on the site.

High stars
Debbie
'Speedy McCready'


brooksjk wrote 632 days ago

Cariad,

Thank you very much for your kind words! I hope you continue to enjoy the work as it proceeds.

Thanks,
Joe

I have read only chapter one since I'm off out - but wow. There's something I really like about this. I like how you go straight into the story, I like the voice - that style that somehow manages to remove the writer and be more like listening to an internal storyteller. I didn't realise from the pitch when it was set, but I think the gravitas of the vocablulary and phrasing is perfect for the time and place you have set it in.

This is one I want to read more of, just for pleasure, and I've watchlisted it to carry on when I get home. Stars for now, and a marker for my shelf at change over. Impressed.
Cariad.

Cariad wrote 632 days ago

I have read only chapter one since I'm off out - but wow. There's something I really like about this. I like how you go straight into the story, I like the voice - that style that somehow manages to remove the writer and be more like listening to an internal storyteller. I didn't realise from the pitch when it was set, but I think the gravitas of the vocablulary and phrasing is perfect for the time and place you have set it in.

This is one I want to read more of, just for pleasure, and I've watchlisted it to carry on when I get home. Stars for now, and a marker for my shelf at change over. Impressed.
Cariad.

Dianna Lanser wrote 642 days ago

Hi Joe,

I really enjoyed reading the first three chapters of your book. I took it the first scene served to be a foreshadow of things to come. This was done in such an impact way. Chapter one introduces James and his close call with violence and chapter two takes the reader through the city of refuge while riding on the back of James‘ BMX bike. You did a wonderful job letting the reader experience life through the eyes of a ten year old. It took me back to my own childhood and how viewed life.

You other works have impressed me and this work was no different. Your writing is always very thoughtful and smooth - easy and enjoyable to read.

I kept looking for references to Stephen Matthews and was hoping there would be a connection between the first chapter and chapters two and three, but I trust that somewhere later on. the connection will show itself.
Although I really liked the detail and spending a day with young James, I felt there could be more action in that third chapter. However, discovering water in the pool at the end of the chapter did make me want to turn the page.

I hope your writing is going well and you are finding success with publication. You are a very gifted writer. Five Stars!

Dianna Lanser

Chapter two -
“It could too happen and I bet you’d (you) it (it’d) be easy for him.“

“But it was either risk it or look like a wuss in they (the) eyes of every single spectator.”

Chapter three -
“The neighborhoods just off Main Street… but a car was especially (a) rare sight…”

scargirl wrote 770 days ago

i see you are building your story. the premise is good, the long pitch is good. if you separate it into paragraphs, it would flow better...
j

brooksjk wrote 774 days ago

When his brother died, James had no idea that it would turn his world upside down for decades to come, for him and his family.
James Matthews is a product of his family and the small Oklahoma town where he has lived his entire life. But, more than that, he is a product of death, specifically the death of the beloved older brother who drowned in the local lake when James was ten years old.

City of Refuge chronicles the life of James Matthews for nearly forty years as he tries to reclaim a life that has been scarred by death. Tragedy reshapes his family and leaves James isolated and unable to break through the walls of his own design. At nineteen he seeks solace in a fantasy world and easy sex. At 30, he turns even further inward, neglecting his wife and his career. At 40, he is broken and deeply afraid of passing his despair onto another generation.

Along the way, he crosses paths with his increasingly dysfunctional family and a community that is doing its best to stave off its own demise in some of the most bizarre ways possible (donkey basketball, anyone).

1