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Book Review: The Other Joseph by Skip Horack

By Kevin Marchand, Connections Intern

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The Other Joseph by Skip Horack

Ecco Press

March 2015

Imagine, before reaching age thirty, that you’re the last surviving member of your family. Your only brother has been lost to war; your parents ripped away a few years later by a car crash. This is precisely the situation of Roy Joseph in Skip Horack’s new novel, The Other Joseph. And things don’t let up for the young man from here.

It is clear from the start that all he wants is something to care about—someone to care about–to be needed, or even wanted. When he receives a mysterious email from a San Francisco teenager claiming to be his lost brother’s biological daughter, Roy packs up his life in Louisiana—which really only consists of himself, his car, and his dog Sam—and heads for the West Coast. Still paying for the mistakes of his past, Roy will be up against the clock in California. He will have only five days to find Joni (his brother’s alleged daughter) and convince her that it is worth maintaining contact with him; otherwise Roy will have to return to Louisiana alone, as the only surviving Joseph.

There is no underlying tone of heartache in this gripping novel; instead, it is on the surface, within every one of Roy’s thoughts and encounters, and in almost all of his memories. He tells us near the beginning of his journey: “I only have a foggy window of boyhood recollections of my brother, and every year I lose more. In maybe my last one I’m twelve years old and we’re stuck in a rainstorm together.”

The Other Joseph is a story of longing. Longing for meaning, longing for identity, for purpose and connection. Like so many characters in American literary tradition, Roy is hopeful that he will find what he’s looking for by going west. All he wants is “that the daughter and the mother might gradually grow to love me, maybe even take the Joseph name. That a man with no one but a dog might stumble upon a family.” It doesn’t take the reader long to understand that his wishes are futile, his actions desperate and hopeless. Most tragic is that we see it, while he doesn’t.

Despite the fact that we know early on that Roy’s mission is a dead one, we turn every page of The Other Joseph with increasing hope that we may be wrong. Skip Horack allows Roy’s desperate hope to become our own, and we are crushed time and again as he is beaten back by a world that seems to have no use for him. And it’s the final surprise that melts away the piece of ourselves we’ve thrown in with Roy Joseph—and what makes it worse: when it actually happens, we realize that we knew it all along.