Review of No Other Way by Roger Real Drouin
Abbeville: Moonshine Cove Publishing, LLC, 2012. 236 pp. $13.95, paper.
Roger Real Drouin brings important environmental concerns to light in his debut novel, No Other Way, which follows Samuel Leaton, a nature photographer, in search of the Northern Stilted Curlew, a species of bird the world believes extinct. As Samuel travels to the bird's last known sighting, a national forest where natural gas has been discovered, he witnesses the changes that come about when the Centur Corporation, a drilling company, comes in and begins to destroy the wildlife. Drouin shares Samuels's discoveries in a narrative that, while flawed, manages to portray nature itself as a character--from the fish to the wolves to the birds--and allows them to steal the novel, and deservedly so, because their stories are the most urgent.
As Samuel first journeys toward where he thinks he might find the rare bird, he observes animals in their natural habitat through the lens of his camera and glimpses the serene and unspoiled lives these birds experience in the wild. One of the first creatures he sees is a falcon, and as he watches her dive for her prey, he witnesses her "white and slate-grey wings...[and] the deep black [of her eyes]." As he goes further into the forest, he glimpses more of the wildlife--birds, snakes, wolves--but most impressive to Samuel are his surroundings as a whole, so fresh and raw that the wind smells "like clean running water, the pine tops...blue to the west, frozen in thin frost and untouched yet by the white sunlight." However, even as he captures some of these images on film, he realizes that this kind of untouched beauty cannot last forever.
This realization comes with the discovery of animals killed in the process of the Centur Corporation preparing to drill for natural gas. When the land itself becomes marred and the effects grow to be permanent and far-reaching, Samuel fears for the Northern Stilted Curlew and the other animals that share this forest as their only habitat. As Samuel watches, helpless, the "machines smash...and drill through dirt and rock," leaving behind carcasses and chemical waste, so much so that Samuel reconsiders his search for the rare bird and focuses his attention instead on the forest as a whole and how he might save it.
While Drouin sometimes conveys the gravity of the situation through stunning descriptions of the wildlife surrounding Samuel, his treatment of the characters themselves is where the novel falls flat. For example, while Samuel carries most of the novel, Drouin includes a subplot including Samuel's son, Ryan, and Ryan's friend, Karia, and switches into their points of view in certain chapters. While this sort of narrative strategy would usually contextualize a novel and give it greater depth, Drouin's subplot fails to do so because these chapters are haphazardly scattered throughout the narrative and do not contribute greatly to the central plot; therefore, they only serve as a distraction.
Furthermore, while Samuel's character is more fully developed than the others, even he has gaps in his character that are not fully explained. For example, Drouin shares some fleeting clues about his wife's death from cancer, his life as a photographer, and snippets of conversations with his son, but these moments are never fully realized and only instigate more questions than answers, which is frustrating, because Drouin proves that he knows how to fully appreciate moments in Samuel's life and make them beautiful, yet he only does this in select chapters. One such chapter is when Samuel remembers to when he was a boy and had taken comfort under a large tree in a rainstorm. Samuel sees a bird, also waiting out the rain, and instantly loves "that tiny bird" as he finds comfort and encouragement from nature and its creatures. Moments like these anchor the story and help contextualize Samuel's driving need to save the Northern Stilted Curlew, so it is unfortunate that these moments do not appear more often.
However, more disappointing than Drouin's missteps in characterization are the number of spelling and grammatical errors scattered throughout the novel. Whether it be inconsistent capitalization, awkward word choices, or misspellings both throughout the novel and on the book's jacket cover, these errors constantly pull readers from the story and detract from the novel's strengths.
Despite its imperfections, No Other Way is, at times, stunning and beautiful. One of the most poignant moments is when Samuel meditates on the fragility of the bird he searches for and thinks on its bones, lighter than its feathers, "thin, hollow inside, filled with oxygen and supported with trusses that keep them strong." He returns to this image often in the novel, and rightly so, because it serves as a metaphor for what hangs in the balance for Samuel and what he stands to lose if he does nothing. As such, Roger Real Drouin enables No Other Way to act as a novel that while faulty, is also genuine and heart-felt.
Tawnysha Greene is currently a Ph.D. candidate in fiction writing at the University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in various literary journals including PANK Magazine and Raleigh Review and is forthcoming in Rougarou: An Online Journal.