Man and the Machine
by John R. Day, Jr.
Cowhead Publishing Company

"Because what is there to life if you don’t have a purpose, a reason for being, a carrot at the foot of your bed to get you up and at ‘em every morning?"

This novel is a sequel. Familiarity with the book that preceded it, Man on the Fence, would undoubtedly enhance comprehension of the multiplicity of characters and their interrelationships with one another. Having said that, though, one can still take this book on its own terms and easily become involved with the families, neighbors, and acquaintances whose lives continually intersect and frequently collide in rural Michigan.

Tate is the family patriarch, a U. S. Congressman recently separated from the Republican Party and now running for re-election as a member of the Natural Law Party. His stances on gun control (not enough of it) and religion (too much of it) had a lot to do with his recently being shot by the son of an old friend inordinately influenced by a hell-and-damnation preacher administering to a cadre of right-wing militia nuts on a neighboring farm. Jordon, the young man who shot Tate, has been spirited away to Thailand to keep from being prosecuted and to take the word of Christ to any of the Buddhists in the country who will listen to him. While there, Jordon is kidnapped by a drug lord and forced into becoming a transporter of illicit drugs and money. Fortunately, he’s scooped up and whisked away to Australia by a mysterious fellow with an even more mysterious background.

If you’re having a difficult time keeping up with these parallel plots, don’t worry about it. These storylines are simply underpinnings that allow the author to explore the personal relationships between the good old boys and girls who do farm work, raise families, make land deals, carouse, and occasionally have firefights with automatic weapons and customized crossbows. Additional characters also figure prominently in these Asia Pacific and Midwestern Machiavellian goings-on. There’s Page, Tate’s mate, who in addition to being a spouse, homemaker, and grandmother, is also still quite a hottie who attracts the unwanted attention of Jason, a muscle-bound young man with unresolved sex issues. Garrett, Tate’s cousin, is a sometime farmer, private investigator, womanizer, and hog semen extractor who keeps the wisecracks coming from chapter to chapter. Chip is an ex-military man skilled in all manner of combat and covert missions. Ji-Young is a conflicted Korean agent… and there are lots more—characters, not agents.

The author is a writer adept at capturing the natural banter of friends and family. The barbs between Tate and his pals abound with humor and resonate with sarcasm and one-upmanship. When appropriate, he captures their camaraderie compassionately without lapsing into sentimentality. Precisely detailed explanations of farming techniques, practices, and equipment add authenticity throughout as the author reminds readers of the knowledge, experience, and hard work required to keep putting food on America’s tables. This is all done, by the way, within the parameters of his story and without pretense or preaching.

While there is clear-cut structure to his narrative with a definite beginning, middle, and end, one gets the impression that it’s the middle that’s most important. His depictions of the inherent dignity and the very human qualities of his characters show an appreciation for the kinds of people who make America’s heartland work. In this tale of Man and the Machine, the author leaves little doubt as to which is most important.

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