The Book of Changes: Jack Remick
“The period of European history from the fall of the Roman Empire in the West (5th century) to the fall of Constantinople (1453), or, more narrowly, from c. 1100 to 1453,” sets the tone for this uniquely crafted novel dealing with change, awakenings and soul searching. Within many colleges are students who flounder and have no idea what they want to do with their futures and some who begin on one path and take another. With the halls of Berkeley College there are many whose paths we will cross, whose lives will touch us as we take the journey with them during a turbulent era, the early 70’s where some are there for educational purposes while others become involved in sex, drugs, politics, love and much more leading to successes and many downfalls. The Book of Changes is not just about the two students that the author focuses on but about changes within yourself, within you scope of understanding as both Tim and Beast as Jack titles him, encounter many different friends, girls and relationships that will cause them to reflect on who they are and who they want to be. But, this is more than just one book it is really two in that Beast is fixated on learning and studying the Middle Ages, becoming a Monk and learning what it takes to understand that time period as he often ponders these thoughts as he travels back in time in his mind experiencing the violence, the smell of decay, the armies that fought and much more with the many chapters of this book as the author allows you the reader to fully understand why Beast is so in love with this time period.
The book begins with the author allowing us to briefly meet both Tim and Beast as they search for a place to live. Finding one did not take long but the end result of getting this place and deciding to take in 2 roommates sets the tone for the many changes within both characters but primarily Beast. When two bikers come to live with them Beast becomes more ensconced in their lives and less in his own. Meeting some odd and strange woman as he is asked to help a young girl named Ellie find her own way, prevent her from taking her own life and then leading himself to an odd relationship with her as she decides to give in to her own desires and change the direction of her own life. Within the walls of where they are staying you find a young woman in love with death and quite dark as she lures Beast into her own den and he finds himself searching for someone he calls The Black Magnolia. Some scenes seem real while others seem to be part of what he dreams up for himself as Tim divorces himself from much of what Beast is doing. Hoping to get the Shiffman Fellowship, Tim focuses on his studies and not on the parties and late night drug fests. Within the chapter Titled The Black Magnolia the author once again takes Beast into the world that fascinates him as he enters a bookstore, buys a book that he has wanted and the events come to life.
The Vikings Motorcycle group takes center stage in many of the chapters as we get to know Robert Sanderson and a young girl named Erin who changed his life, influenced his actions and caused him to drop out of school. Even more the drugs he took and his final fate were caused by his feelings for her, realizing that she really did not care for him and when we learn of his death, the reason and the violence involved we hear many voices. Beast feels he needs to find some answers and approaches this heartless and unfeeling girl whose goal it is to have anyone in her bed and could care less as to who it is. Added in Beast learns more about his late friend and approaches another realizing that his fate might just be the same as the second roommate Charky decides to follow the path of drugs, meth, freedom of sex and no responsibility. As Beast or Mitch tries to reason with his friend he see another side of him as he realizes what could be his fate too but will he change or will he remain with Georgia Lee as he once again comes to the rescue of a friend but a little too late. A woman calls for help and loses her child and her husband shuns her why? The Revolution is over and the end result is quite sad as the Rebellion begins with one friend leaving school and Beast searching for some help. Another asks for help, takes her where she requests and the end result finds him alone with a woman named Catherin Carter and a link to another friend. But, when will this young man stop, look in the mirror and decide just who he is and what path to take?
Taking his words or poetry to Jack Southworth he learns more about what he needs to do and attempts to do what he says which is take dictation. Tearing up his pages he stands and reads or delivers his poetry and finally releases his words. Each character is struggling with his/her own identity and each one seeks a different path but all wind up stoned, drunk or on some type of hard drugs. Is this really how young people find their way to adulthood? Is this how young man proves their manhood? As these students from the Valley attend this college and often transfer from others in this book the changes relate to creating a world that fits who they are and how they transform from start to finish. Some never succeed while others just might. As some of his fellow students and friends leave school deeming it a waste of time others enter the work force and deal with our capitalist system while Sanderson’s fate is sealed in another way. Beast seems like a rubber tire whose tread never wears out and whose life takes many unusual turns. But, will he ever become an expert in medieval literature and become a poet or will he succumb to the wiles of girls, drugs, and bikers and channel his energies in his poetry?
Author Jack Remick allows Beast to be narrator telling his story as if it were a poem that he wrote and told in his own way leaving us to wonder what is real and what he imagines. The references to Yuban Coffee will evoke memories in older readers and those that smoke might remember Pall Mall. Leading back to an era when drugs, the Vietnam War and the political arena was changing the author takes us inside the world of college students allowing us to hear their thoughts and experience their actions first hand. Many of these young people strike out not only at others, the establishment but at themselves too while trying to experiment, discover and create their own perfect world knowing no limits, no boundaries and thinking they would never face any consequences. A strong time period but I wonder just how close to the present this is and how closely it would mirror what happens in our schools or colleges today.
Will Beast continue to ride his K-Model, wear his black leather, drink, snort and smoke too much and over indulge himself with girls or will he finally come down to earth? Caring is one thing but does he really ever show that things and death’s matter? Will his tires ever show any wear and tear? Does caring make you weak? When searching for someone to help him he is guided to the wrong people and falters.
An ending that will make you wonder just where each young person is going: Which one is liar, cheat, user, betrayer, money hungry and out for himself regardless of whom he takes with him? Which one just want to find his way, learns the truth behind a relationship and just might decide to change? Which one learns from his mistakes? Which one does not care? Read the Book of Changes and decide who does.
Fran Lewis: reviewer