Midwest Book Review
Jamie Stoudt’s debut novel Back Again holds many surprises; not the least of which is its powerful, well-organized plot and voice. Debut novels can either make or break a writer. This one’s a clear winner from the start: “Wendy Halstad was in church, up front, all alone, in a jar. She was dead, ashes to ashes and all that. Massive heart attack, fifty years old, no warning, no symptoms, no time to say goodbye. Just kerplop, and that was that.”
This ironic observational style weaves through the story with a finesse unusual in a first novel. As readers absorb the story of a woman who seemingly returns to life and returns years after the funeral detailed above, showing up at her husband’s workplace, the story embraces new possibilities.
Why has Wendy returned? There’s always unfinished business to attend to, but Wendy has her sights set on something special…tasks that embraces Michael’s living world in a different way.
If you could return from the dead, would it be for small concerns, or bigger-picture objectives? Wendy’s newfound mission to improve not just the town or her husband but the world serves as a driving force for good even as its roots stem from an impossible scenario.
As Jamie Stoudt focuses on a ‘noble scheme’ for conflict abatement, humor remains a steady stream through meetings, ambitions, and impossible discussions: “Excellent!” Melinda nearly yelled. “The link between the elimination of coal and the advent of fully renewable! Why haven’t I heard of this before?”
“Umm… because I’m an itty, bitty cog in a giant industrial conundrum?” Peter replied.
Melinda let out a howl. “How did you get out of MIT with a sense of humor intact?”
Peter responded modestly, “They figured they either had to graduate me or shoot me. Nobody’s a very good shot up there.”
As a newfound fixer with a new purpose to life, having left and returned to it with a different perspective, Wendy spreads her message and purpose everywhere. Along with it are altered perceptions of those around her and their rationales for good and bad choices alike: “…a young man shot me there as well, in front of the Al-Hakeem Mosque in Minneapolis. It turned out that he was a caring fellow who was somewhat confused.”
Crowley chimed in, “And this ‘caring young fellow’ shot you.”
“Three times, actually, but he apologized, and I helped him with an alibi.” And she shrugged. “What can I say? It’s not about me. It’s about humans rejecting nonsense, dogma, and their self-imposed limitations. Killing each other in the name of god. It’s about intellectual growth, after thousands of years of near stagnation.”
As she cultivates a newfound purpose to life, Wendy will change it not just by her resurrection, but by her responses to the adversity in the world, from personal to political and beyond.
Jamie Stoudt’s novel is delightful, weaving together new perceptions of social ills, individual responsibility, the effects of resurrection on the world, and business ventures that create new underlying values for living life.
Perhaps his finest achievement in writing this story is how one individual’s miraculous appearance and revised attitude slowly begins to change the world around her.
Stoudt takes a tone in his story that resides somewhere between the processes of a business novel and the evolution of a miracle. The fact that Wendy has no real idea of exactly why she’s come back again, but proceeds to live a vastly revised life that ripples out to affect everyone around her, makes for an intriguing read that blends social and political transformation into the notion that revising attitudes and lives is an achievable goal for an individual.
Readers who choose Back Again will delight in its unusual combination of pragmatic systems assessment (business, social, and political) and personal relationships changed by not just Wendy’s appearance, but her newfound approach to life. It’s highly recommended reading for its original perspective. If at times it all seems too positive…that’s a big plus in a literary environment more commonly filled with angst, these days.