Better Days
by Len Joy
Kindle Direct Publishing

"Sometimes love has to be enough."

There are first-rate writers. There are excellent storytellers. Every now and then they even reside in the same body. On occasion, these hybrids are also able to tell their tales in a uniquely American voice—one that’s easy on the ear even when it’s hard on the heart. Pete Dexter is such a writer. Davis Grub and Elmore Leonard are a couple of others. If this novel is any indication, and it certainly is, you just might want to put Len Joy into that category, as well. Joy’s tale of one man’s midlife crisis—not precipitated by internal navel-gazing but rather by snowballing external factors—is that rare parable that makes many of us wonder how we’d react if we were in the crosshairs and forced to choose between doing what’s best and doing what’s right.

Darwin, by his own calculations, is luckier than most. He has a good job, a pretty wife, and a teenage daughter who actually doesn’t hate her parents. He lives in a nice house in a pleasant town. He has good friends. He is, by many standards, living the American dream and enjoying a life he’s absolutely satisfied with. His wife wishes he were more ambitious, more motivated to move up through the ranks of his company, but Darwin feels like he’s in a very good place already, particularly since his immediate boss is his lifelong friend Billy. Billy and Darwin were teammates on their town’s high school championship basketball team. Billy stole the ball and passed to Darwin, who made the shot that made history—a history Billy’s been recounting to anyone who’ll listen for the past thirty-plus years. As those years passed, the flamboyant Billy became extremely successful; the steady Darwin became increasingly loyal (even while realizing his best friend’s eccentricities), and their friendship held firm—at least until things started to get really weird.

Billy vanishes. Darwin learns that his friend and benefactor has been playing fast and loose with company policy and business ethics while walking a tightrope over potential racketeering charges. All of a sudden, it’s not just corporate bigwigs who are looking into things but also the FBI. Simultaneously, the cooperative coaching assignment Darwin began, at Billy’s behest, has turned into a potential marriage-wrecker due to the captivating allure of the beautiful and athletic guidance counselor turned coach that Darwin agreed to help. As if all of that weren’t enough, local gang activity heats up, Darwin’s family is pulled into a high-profile shooting, and the Feds decide to offer Darwin a way out of all his problems, if he’ll just rat on his old pal, Billy.

Joy’s storytelling prowess is exceptional. He’s able to create seemingly bizarre situations that when thought about logically are completely credible. His prose style is wonderfully conversational. One never gets the impression that he’s trying to dazzle his readers with style. Yet his seeming understatements often strike profound notes, as when he says, “The frisky, fun-loving girl who drove the boys crazy and who loved me more than all of them, had vanished long ago. I missed that girl, but I understood. Nothing lasts.”

There is also the ring of authenticity throughout all of the author’s descriptions of basketball training and playing. One gets the sense that this is an individual who has known the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat and has truly never forgotten either. While Joy’s characters seem honest and real, and his plot intricate and compelling, it is his insightful examination of friendship that sticks with you long after the last page has been turned. That examination alone makes the book involving. His ability to tell his story so well is what makes it memorable.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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