4 out of 4 stars
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Thirty-Three Cecils by Everett De Morier is a book with an unusual title, written in a unique format and featuring two memorable characters. Walker Roe and Riley Dutcher are very different people with some basic things in common: they both feel like they have disappointed all of their friends and family, are both looking to break out of their old patterns, and to rebuild their lives in a better way.
The story itself is told through their perspectives, via a series of journals written by each of the men. These journals detail their initial encounter (and what had lead up to it), and the life-changing events that followed.
Riley Dutcher is a young man who has recently lost many of his friends and family due to his problem with alcohol and inability to prioritize anything else in his life. As we get to know him through his journal entries, we witness his gradual emerging from the haze of alcoholism, and the steps he takes to give himself a fresh start. Walker Roe is an ex-filmmaker who was recently released from a short stint in minimum security prison, where he was sent on counterfeiting and fraud charges. Because his arrest resulted in bankruptcy and divorce, upon his release he faces the hard work of rebuilding his life, maintaining relationships with his daughters, and finding employment. Eventually, he crosses paths with Riley Dutcher, otherwise known as Dutch, and through a series of narrow coincidences and supernatural luck, Dutch saves Walker’s life.
Once this takes place, events are set into motion that drastically change the course of both of their lives within a short time period. The death of a friend and the financial legacy left to Walker enables the pair to hire a lawyer and start a company, though their motivations for doing these things are far from typical. In the midst of these adventures, both Walker and Dutch learn how to seek out and attract miraculous and extraordinary events, and eventually how to break out of the negative patterns in which they had previously been engrained.
As I mentioned earlier, this book has a unique format which also translates into an unusual style of writing. Because it is set up as a non-fiction compilation of the characters’ journal entries and related newspaper articles, there is a prologue and epilogue that set the scene and provide final closure to the events within the journal. The prologue tells the reader how the story ends, so as we go through the process of reading the journal entries, we are given a glimpse into the days leading up to those final events. In this way, it is quite unlike a story which one reads from cover to cover in order to find out what happens in the end. Rather, the entire point of the story is the character development that occurs in the middle. This character development is one of the most successful elements of the book. Though the journal entries are like individual pieces of the larger puzzle of the story, each character’s voice and verbal style is unique and believable, and the characters are portrayed vividly even despite minimal descriptors. The author is able to capture the essence of both of these men, each from very different backgrounds, and relay them in an authentic way.
The title of the book itself comes from the title of a story that Walker tells his two young daughters. The lesson within this story-in-a-story is that when we are looking around us for evidence of a miracle, if we put rigid boundaries around what we believe a miracle should look like, we may miss many other extraordinary occurrences that take place all around us all the time. Tellingly, in the short time that Walker and Dutch knew each other, they were able to manifest an incredible number of miraculous events. They succeeded at this precisely because each of them had surrendered any preconceived notions of what to expect, and simply opened their eyes to the possibilities around them.
For a novel as short as this one, the author was able to pack in an incredible amount of characterization, and included many profound yet subtle lessons along the way. Though the format may not be one with which all readers are comfortable, the actual events described in the journal entries are fascinating and the protagonists are richly nuanced and sympathetic characters. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars and recommend it to readers who enjoy stories of redemption, unlikely friendship, and tales of miracles that hide amidst our everyday surroundings.
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