Memories of Artie
Greg Starypan never thought he’d write a book, but when his best friend died suddenly, grieving the loss brought him to places he had heard of, but never believed. This scientist, trained in oceanography and zoology, learned that the road from head to heart led away from the security of the here and now to the vulnerabilities of the past and the uncertainties of the future.
Crawling Back to Start, published in 2014, pays homage to Starypan’s best friend, “J.T.” As the author tells it, “The novel was supposed to be about J.T., but it ended up being about me.” Perhaps that’s a revelation of all first novelists: that the story is about them. For Starypan, however, this was a surprise. Remembering J.T., feeling his presence and guidance after death, and paying attention to coincidences were what drove him to write the book. That Crawling Back to Start chronicles the author’s own growth Starypan puts down to a reflection of the impact that J.T. had on him, alive and after his tragic death.
The novel brings us from a Washington state zoo to the Alsea River in Oregon, where the main character, Biter, drifts his way into a bartending job and meets the characters that come to shape him. Along the way, we learn about wolverines (not the graphic novel character), encounter a cougar, and appreciate the natural blessings of the forests, rivers, and mountains of the Pacific Northwest. We watch Biter as he transforms from an impulsive man who rarely leaves his comfort zone to a man whose heart is opened – bit by bit – through his encounters with the bar regulars whom he comes to appreciate when he sees them through the eyes of his friend.
The novel is a mixture of memoir and fiction, written this way, Starypan says, to preserve the privacy of his friend’s death for his family. The end result is a story about men, men’s friendships, and men’s feelings. It is easy to see that Starypan has been transformed, not only by his friend’s death, but by the writing of the novel. He allows us to see the struggle he goes through and the not-so-easy extrication from the pain.
Starypan is working on his second novel, a murder mystery set on the Alsea River. His first novel, Crawling Back to Start, can be purchased at www.amazon.com . For a review of the novel, visit www.kirkusreviews.com.