It all began the day of my funeral, relates the book's protagonist, Melvin Morrison - a spell-binding tale that begins with an ending. Traveling through millennia of recorded history, sparring characters draw the reader into compelling, real-life action with hero's and villains of eras long past.
Melvin, a deceased Vermont attorney, and Aunt Martha, Melvin's suddenly reappearing, self-appointed spirit guide, vie humorously over the trivial, heroically over the traumatic; their interaction, with dear ones left behind, the troubling constant holding the past and the possible in perilous proximity.
"Dear ones" include factious and facetious characters like Simon Farley, the village would-be poet and needs-be bicycle repairman; Thelma Peabody, an old maid, placard waving demonstrator at Vermont's nearby capital; George O'Malley, Melvin's Boston-Irish law partner-cum-Romeo; Melody, Melvin's grieving wife and soon-to-be mother; Charlene, Melvin's vengeful, pregnant mistress; and Arthur Steinburg, an illiterate antiquarian book store proprietor.
Melvin's last case is a suit against the Rogue Sperm Bank filed by Mr. and Mrs. Way - inversely referred to as Rogue vs Way - for the untimely death of their in vitro baby. After Melvin's death, Melody makes a withdrawal from the Rogue Bank, giving her deceased husband the opportunity to come back as his own son. (Hence the title, Twice Melvin.) But the problems are only beginning for Melody when Melvin reappears, in the whitest state in the Union, as a cuddlesome and controversial black baby. Rumors run rampant that Vincent TenKlei, a wealthy Rhodesian student at the village's acclaimed God-Hard College, has fumbled his way to fatherhood.
Enter interventions from the Beyond, and the disturbance proliferates! Tongue-in-cheek humor, heart-wrenching romance, or soul-searching tears, the reader will find it all here - including an ending that begins.
Reared by traveling evangelists, my sheltered years were a moth-swarm of questions and quandaries. Like drawn curtains against the sun, my naiveté rebuffed the dazzle of temporal joy. I feigned comprehension, for to do otherwise was to be reproached by the happiness of others - until the milieu of university curricula enlightened me. As Eudora Welty wrote, "A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."
In retrospect, I treasure the innocent years - as most do - a kind of throwback to Thoreau's life at Walden. Yet, as I write, I suspect only God and romanticists empathize with my quest, my yearning for warmth - like a meadow on a summer day. Peace. A palliative of which the world is bereft.
Having eyes that see, and ears that hear (in the biblical sense), I often feel complicit in the world's duress; escaping via demiurgical expression, creating
characters, places and events by the whim of fancy. Freud instructs us to hold our parents accountable for our problematic existence, Marx tells us we should point the finger at the upper class, when, in truth, we have only ourselves at fault. Blake believed if the doors of perception were cleansed, we would see everything as it is. Infinite. But truth is beyond the rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Beyond thought, even.
Accordingly, I've stumbled through the fifty states, and much of Europe and Asia, gathering impressions for my narrative. To quote Melville, "This world clean fails me: still I yearn." Such hunger funds the heart, the will to live. As the journey lengthens and the destination seems never nearer, I've grown to accept that my journey IS the destination. A writer's duty, I think, is to brave possibilities. Temerity breaths life into characters.
Accepting the challenge, I've been writing since the mid seventies - poetry (that window on the soul) and short stories, reflecting the uniqueness of station and local. Before college, I was homeschooled, due to my parents' constant travel. As an adult, I've called home by many names: Texas, Georgia, Florida, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Louisiana, among them.
My hobbies include reading, cooking, gardening, and piano (the latter one of my college majors). Surmounting these four, is writing, making memories into more than they were; for memories are living things, conjoining the past and the future, resurrecting the dead and imagining the unborn.
Two thousand years ago, Pilate asked Christ, "What is truth?" the answer being every man's quest - to which I add another Pilate excerpt: "What I have written I have written."
Review Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed By Grant Leishman for Readers’ Favorite
When Melvin Morrison dies, things don’t go quite the way he expects. He finds himself in an in-between land, still able to see his wife and friends, but unable to interact with them or influence their actions significantly. In Twice Melvin by James Pumpelly, Melvin is guided in the afterlife by his long deceased Aunt Martha, who explains to him the whys and wherefores of being dead. Much of what Martha discloses to Melvin will come as a great shock to him and he begins to realize he has a decision to make, one that will impact on everyone in his life and their futures, including future generations. Melvin’s ex-law partner, George, and both of their past philandering will play a significant part in Melvin’s future, both in the afterlife and also back in earth’s reality. George has secret designs on Melvin’s wife and Melvin is none too sure how he feels about that. Add into the mix an incompetent sperm bank and the scene is set for a true comedy of errors.
Twice Melvin is a comedic, slightly off-the-wall view of relationships, friendships and human interaction. James Pumpelly’s characters are uniquely drawn so as to emphasize their quirkiness, their eccentricities and, of course, their biases and prejudices. It was a really pleasant surprise for me, as a reader, to depart from the common language of genre fiction and return again to the eloquent, more refined use of the English language, as one might expect from a nineteenth-century novel. This book is contemporary literature and Pumpelly displays both his artistic ability as a wordsmith and a poet. The story is at times, very humorous, but very much in that understated British style of self-deprecating humour. That it was set in and around New England in the stuffy, ‘old money’ society just gave the story a richness and depth that I haven’t read for a considerable time. The premise and the exploration of morality, choices and self-awareness were intricate and well-handled by the author. This is the type of work that demands a reader explore more of this author’s portfolio. It was a pleasant change from my usual reading fare and one to be recommended.
Review Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed By K.J. Simmill for Readers’ Favorite
Melvin is dead. There's no beating around the bush with that. But what a mess he left in his wake, or rather his Aunt Martha left after a brief possession of the priest to give him the 'no punches pulled' send-off she thought he deserved. His mistress is pregnant, and his wife, Melody, has made her own withdrawal from the Rogue Sperm Bank in the hope of letting her husband's legacy live on. Melvin has a choice: his aunt is insisting he is born again, and he must quickly choose which vessel his soul should enter, the child carried by his wife, or that of his mistress. There are, of course, complications that cause even those against idle chatter to sow the seeds of gossip. Melvin was indeed reborn, and what a stir it caused.
Lately, whenever I pick up a book claiming to be comedy, a brief wave of dread passes over me. Today's amusement seems often to be nothing more than a string of put-downs, and jerkish behaviour, something I would call closer to bullying than humour. I actually heaved a sigh of relief when I first started reading James Pumpelly's Twice Melvin. I don't remember the last time a book with such witty humour crossed the screen of my kindle. Only a few paragraphs in, I found myself chuckling, and the momentum continues. Refreshing wit, great banter, some ironic humour, all wrapped up in an interesting and enjoyable plot. This book certainly rekindled my faith in the genre, and restored my hope that there are still people who can be funny, without it being at someone's expense.
Within Twice Melvin you'll find some great characters, deep and real with their own unique personalities and agendas. The book itself is written in alternating perspectives between the first person narrative of Melvin (later Melvin Jr.), and the third person perspective of the other characters. Whilst Melvin, for a large portion of the book, is deceased, it in no way hampers the story-telling, and James Pumpelly manages to spin a creative, humorous tale with serious aspects, romance, otherworldly meddling, and mortal gossip. A refreshing read that had me laughing aloud more than once.
Review Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed By Ray Simmons for Readers’ Favorite
I liked Twice Melvin by James Pumpelly. There are a lot of reasons for that. First of all, it’s hard not to appreciate the irony of a novel that begins with the protagonist's funeral. There’s just something so deliciously ironic about that. Next, I happen to have lived in Vermont, and had the pleasure to travel around the state a little. It is a unique place with unique people and James Pumpelly captures that unique spirit beautifully. This is not the type of novel I read all the time. I am a Southern man and when I read regional stories they are usually about the South. But every once in a while, I come across a very good novel that takes place in New England. Something like The World According to Garp by John Irving. These are novels that are great American literature, in my opinion. I place Twice Melvin in that category.
I can’t decide whether to say it is the characters or the writing that is the best about Twice Melvin. They are so intertwined that it’s like asking, “What comes first? The chicken or the egg?” At any rate, they are both done by a master. James Pumpelly gives us a host of characters, starting with Melvin, and they are all done superbly. The plot is great, if a little unusual, but it fits all the other parts of the story together like the strongest glue. The setting is also top of the line. James Pumpelly weaves together all the components of this tale to create a great American novel.