No Other Way, the debut novel from Roger Real Drouin, is reviewed by Chris Hall.
“…I really must stress how moving Drouin’s descriptions of forests, marshes, mountains and birds are, and the thoughtful way in which he explores the minds of the book’s three male characters…”
No Other Way
Roger Real Drouin
Moonshine Cove Publishing
Review by Chris Hall
I generally find birds to be odd, quick, graceful blurs; interesting in the way any animal can be interesting, though never fascinating enough to function as hidden treasure. Credit must be given to Roger Real Drouin, then, for making a species of bird beguiling enough and elusive enough to be the crucial focus of his novel No Other Way. Whether through luck or design, he also explores the topically controversial and supposedly ‘clean energy’ source of hydrofracking natural gas, which forms the impending threat to the flora and fauna so tenderly and thoughtfully depicted in this novel. Whilst Drouin can take your breath away with his passionate descriptions of natural beauty and the animals that live within it, the story he crafts feels a little loose and clumsy inside its magnificent backdrop.
Our hero Samuel is a photographer, specialising in birds, and finds himself drawn to Wilson Sanford Natural Forest in search of the elusive Northern Stilted Curlew, a bird thought by experts to likely be extinct. Drouin doesn’t take us to Idaho and leave us there following Samuel through the forest, though. The story takes place over course of a couple of years, and weaves in the lives of Samuel’s son and a park ranger who becomes entangled in Samuel’s pursuit of the Curlew. We get tantalising hints at the effect of Sam’s wife’s death on him as a man and as a father, and a fairly impressive exploration of how a person’s passion can drive them to do things they would previously balk at the notion of. Unfortunately, there are just slightly too many missteps and clumsy uses of English to make this a great story.
Having said that, I really must stress how moving Drouin’s descriptions of forests, marshes, mountains and birds are, and the thoughtful way in which he explores the minds of the book’s three male characters, because this is where he shines. No Other Way is clearly an environmental call to arms against corporate irresponsibility and the harvesting of natural resources in an energy-conscious world. That’s not a new concept, nor do I take issue with that being its message. However, Drouin only gives us small glimpses at people who think the hydrofracking is a good thing, and a sympathetic portrayal of a character who genuinely thinks it is for the best would have helped round out a lot of the novel’s ideas, and made for a more balanced and serious discussion of the problem. Instead we only see irrational, defiant Republican stereotypes and company logging men who could star as goons in an 80’s action film.
Worthy of note is the relationship between Ryan, Samuel’s son, and a waitress called Karia. Drouin occasionally gives us a few pages from Karia’s point of view, which are usually startling glimpses into her troubled past and tormented present. We are presented with the idea that Ryan and Karia will take care of each other and help each other through their respective problems, which is fine but a little unclear. Worse, Karia and Ryan could have been absent from the novel and the story would still broadly have worked, which is never a good sign. I had hoped that these characters, who both have feelings of loss, lack of self-worth, and in Karia’s case self-abuse, might form a parallel with the abuse of natural resources and rare, endangered creatures that need tenderness and help to survive. This never really came to pass, and more could have been done to make them essential to the story.
The park ranger Thomas provides a welcome change of pace from the peaceful, thoughtful Samuel. His own struggle is with where he draws the line between upholding the law, and protecting what he thinks is precious. He too is prone to existential ponderings on the relationship between man and nature, but his are more clearly defined, simply by the fact he has a loyal dog who helps him. He develops a bond with Samuel on their common love of all things natural, and end up working together to pursue to the elusive Curlew and use it as a reason to stop the ravaging of the National Forest.
By the end of the book, the characters find a solution which, frankly, is a real anti-climax. Whilst, as mentioned above, the notion of passion driving people to do previously unthinkable behaviour is a fine idea to explore, Drouin lets us down at the end, and simply doesn’t answer all of our remaining questions. Sure, we might not be expecting a traditional, Disney-style happy ending in a novel that poses as literary environmental fiction, but the story and its characters deserve something a little longer and a little more thought through.
No Other Way is at turns spellbinding and jarring. It isn’t good enough to love, nor is it bad enough to hate. With a more thorough approach to its characters, and a keen editorial eye to iron out the grammar and syntax, it could be almost as beautiful as the mountains, marshes, forests and, most importantly, the birds that it depicts.