||Feb 10, 2009
Edward Stanton is 39. He's grappling with mental illness. He's a virgin. He doesn't trust anything he can't verify. And he lives alone in a house in Billings, Montana, largely shutting out the world and sticking to the few things he can rely on: the data he keeps, and his trusty videotaped episodes of the '60s cop show Dragnet.
But over the course of 25 days -- 600 hours -- events begin to draw Edward out and force him to confront a question: Can he deal with life on its terms, or will he remain behind his closed door, a solitary soul in a city of 100,000 people?
Six-Hundred Hours of a Life
It’s an odd and embarrassing thought that stirs me from sleep:
What if Joy wants to have sex with me tonight? This is not an eventuality I have remotely planned for, and it seems so preposterous (I love the word “preposterous”) on the face of it that I am inclined to just lie back
down and return to sleep.
And yet, I cannot. So I watch time peel off my digital clock in the darkness as I ponder this.
5:57 … 5:58 … 5:59 …
I keep coming back to what Dr. Buckley said: “I hope that’s not on the agenda for your first date.” No, it’s not.
We don’t have an agenda. We are meeting at the new wine bar downtown, the one on Broadway. Everything after
that is uncertain — including, and most especially, the question of whether we are having sex.
6:00 … 6:01 … 6:02 …
I must make a confession: I have never had sex, at least not with another human being. I am 39 years old and
so, yes, I have discovered self-satisfaction. There’s no need to be excessively descriptive or gross about it. I read Dear Abby every morning in The Billings Gazette, and I remember her saying something years ago about selfsatisfaction:
Half of men do it, and the other half lie when they say they don’t do it. That’s what Dear Abby said,
and that’s good enough for me. Dear Abby is a very logical woman.
6:03 … 6:04 … 6:05 …
So since I’ve never had sex, you can probably understand why I am now wigging out about it. (I love the slang
phrase “wigging out.”) Setting aside the obvious questions — such as, how does one arrive at the decision to have
sex on a first date; does one just say, “This is a delicious salad. I look forward to telling you more about it later, when we’re having sex”? — I have to say that I am very uncomfortable with the idea. It seems like an irresponsible thing to do.
6:06 … 6:07 … 6:08 …
But let’s say for argument’s sake that we were to have sex. This is a hypothetical situation. Where does it
happen? Do we drive all the way back to Broadview and have sex at her house? We cannot have sex at this house; that simply is not a possibility. Among other potential problems, my father would be apoplectic if he found out. If
Joy and I drive all the way back to Broadview, how do we have sex and leave enough time for me to get back to
Billings to see tonight’s episode of “Dragnet”? I don’t see how it would be possible. I couldn’t have sex with that kind of time pressure. I’m not sure I can have sex at all, seeing as how I never have. I’m simply saying that, even if the physical act of love were possible, I would not be able to concentrate on it knowing that I might miss “Dragnet.”
6:09 … 6:10 … 6:11 …
So what? A hotel room? That still brings up the “Dragnet” problem. A nice hotel, like the Crowne Plaza, might be willing to put a videocassette player in the room, but then I would have to make sure to bring my “Dragnet” tape along, not knowing whether I would actually need it.
I think that would be awkward:
Joy: “Hi, Edward. Why do you have your ‘Dragnet’ tape?”
Me: “Hi, Joy. I thought we might have sex, so I wanted to be ready. I can’t miss ‘Dragnet.’ ”
Also, the Crowne Plaza is not the sort of place that would rent us a room for the sole purpose of having sex.
The sort of place that would rent us a room for sex — and I don’t know how to find such a place — might not have a
videocassette player to lend me. It would probably just want us to have sex and leave.
6:12 … 6:13 … 6:14 …
It’s settled. We’re not having sex, even if Joy wants to. Even if I want to. There is just no way this can happen.
I will have to apply the lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Buckley about saying no to this situation. I can say no to sex with Joy while still treating her with dignity and grace.
I should practice at this.
“Sex? I’m ever so sorry, Joy, but it’s just not possible tonight. I do hope you understand.”
“Under normal circumstances, Joy, I would love to have sex with you, but it’s simply not a good night
“I am so appreciative of the offer, but I cannot. Perhaps I could take a rain check.”
Yes, any of those will work.
If she’s aggressive and grabs my wiener, though, I may have to come up with another plan. I have seen that
sort of thing happen on late-night cable television, and I think it’s only prudent that I be ready for it.
The Billings Gazette
By CHRIS RUBICH
Of The Gazette Staff
It’s rare that an author releases a
deeply autobiographical collection
of essays at the same time as a
painfully human yet uplifting novel.
Billings writer Craig Lancaster
has done both with his debut books,
“Six-Hundred Hours of a Life” and
I read his essays first, more to get
to better know Lancaster and what
drives him as a person and writer
than out of a particular plan. But it
was a good choice because the essays lend richness to the experiences
of the novel.
“Past-Due Pastorals” uses Lancaster’s
humor and way with words to reveal a childhood and early adult years trying to remain close to his father,who bounced from job to job in Montana, Wyoming and elsewhere.
Lancaster found inspiration for his
journalism career from his stepfather
while struggling to understand a
father who often ignored his son’s
birthdays and other milestones.
“As I grew older and was able to
look at it more rationally, I wondered
if he kept me at a distance
because he was afraid he would hurt
me,like he had been hurt,” Lancaster
Much of that realization comes
with finally learning more about his
grandfather, Fred, who left a legacy
of abuse before disappearing from
the family decades earlier.
The painful pasts shape both Lancaster
and his father, and the author’s
essays take readers into intimate
views of the building of a bridge,
however shaky, between them.
Razor-sharp cuts, amusing reminisces
of Lancaster’s friendships
and stories of learning from his
career and nasty motorcycle crash
find homes next to the story of his
long-distance, high-tech romance
with the woman he would marry.
Lancaster is a good tale spinner
and word lover, which is evident in
both books. His skill with words
especially shows in the note of
pledges that he wrote to his future
wife when it looked as if the romance
might end. Some of the phrases
would make a wonderful proposal or
wedding vows for another couple or
just make a woman wonder why her
man can’t woo so well.
His experiences revealed in the
essays carry into his novel in which
Billings resident Edward Stanton
retreats into isolation because of
mental illness and his father’s harsh
reaction to a disappointing son.
Lancaster starkly, yet with
humor, follows Stanton’s daily routine
of logging his waking times and
the previous day’s weather, eating
the same foods and arranging magazines
in his mental-health adviser’s
waiting room just so.
If he drives, every turn must be a
right turn, and he’s proved right in
his own mind when a left turn leads
One of the best writing devices
details Stanton’s daily watching of
recordings of the decades-ago
“Dragnet” TV series in specific
order at a specific time. Readers get
drawn into Stanton’s fascination,
while actor Jack Webb’s “Just the
facts, ma’am” line from the show
perfectly fits Stanton’s distrust of
anything but fact.
That obsession makes his life all
the more closed until a neighbor
boy breaks through Stanton’s barriers.
The child opens Stanton to new
experiences, to letting others into
his life for good or ill and even to
trying changes in his safe routines.
This is not a dark, dark book but
a blossoming of possibilities.
Billings-area readers will enjoy
the local settings and topics.
And Stanton’s emotional ride
has lessons and appeal for all.
By Dr. Tami Brady
Edward Stanton follows a very strict routine. Every since the “Garth Brooks incident”, he’s lived the house he father bought for him. He wakes up each day, eats the same things, watches Dragnet (only the color episodes), writes a letter of complaint (which he doesn’t mail because of the afore mentioned incident) and collects data about when he wakes up each morning and about the weather each day (forecast versus the facts). Edward loves the facts.
Except for his weekly appointments with his counselor and occasional letters from his father’s lawyer complaining that Edward has spent too much money on paint for his garage, Edward lives in isolation. However, over the course of just 25 days (600 hours), his life begins to change in ways that he never thought possible. Perhaps for the first time in his life, Edward begins to live.
There’s something very special about Edward and Six-Hundred Hours of a Life. His obsessive compulsive disorder brings an interesting aspect of quirkiness to his life experiences. Yet there is also vulnerability and an innocent quality that is endearing. Ultimately, no matter who we are the same things are important to us all.
Stone's Throw magazine
By Russell Rowland
Edward Stanton prefers facts. He also prefers people who are logical. People like his psychiatrist, Dr. Buckley, who gives him good, practical advice. But he especially prefers people like Joe Friday, the LA cop played by Jack Webb on Dragnet. Edward likes the way that Friday solves his cases by sticking to the facts and putting the pieces together.
Here are the facts of Edward Stanton’s life. He is thirty-nine years old, a virgin, and he lives in a house his father bought him after ‘the Garth Brooks incident,’ where Garth Brooks’ people issued a restraining order against Edward for sending 49 letters of complaint to Garth Brooks for ruining country music. Edward also lost his job at the county courthouse over this incident. Since then, he has started each day by rising between 7:37 and 7:40 every morning. For most people, the exact time would not matter, but Edward records the time each day, and can tell you exactly how many times he woke up at 7:39 for the year. He also records the weather forecast, which is always a little unsettling because it is not a fact. He prefers recording the actual temperature from yesterday, which proves yet again that yesterday’s forecast was simply an estimate.
Edward eats at the same time each day, and of course, he ends every day by watching an episode of Dragnet at 10:00. He has all of the color episodes on tape, and he watches them in the sequence they aired. If for some reason he misses his allotted 10:00 time, he will not allow himself to watch the episode scheduled for that evening until it comes up again in the rotation some nine months later. In case it’s not obvious yet, Edward Stanton suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He has also been diagnosed with Asberger’s, a mild form of autism that causes significant difficulties with social situations for those who suffer from it. But Edward is working hard to overcome these problems by following the advice of Dr. Buckley.
For one thing, he has stopped mailing the letters of complaint that he writes every evening. He instead files them carefully in a filing cabinet, first inserting them into the folder for each recipient. He has also made efforts to get out into the world. For instance, he volunteered to answer calls for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, but that didn’t go well because the system they used to mark their phone list was not logical. When he suggested a different system, they told him his services were no longer needed. He also attempted to join eHarmony but was informed that they could not find a match for him. So he has been forced to join a smaller internet dating site, which leads to a hilarious blind date with a woman allegedly named Joy.
Edward’s life is finally disrupted for good when he goes to Home Depot one day to buy paint for his garage. When the clerk does not provide him with the proper guidance, Edward ends up buying three different colors of paint, which he then feels obligated to use. While Edward applies the first color, a young boy who just moved in across the street shows up and offers to help. Although Kyle, his neighbor's son, doesn't paint the way Edward would like, and tends to talk more than Edward would like, Edward finds himself enjoying the boy's company, and this little crack in the routine starts a whole series of events that eventually change Edward's life.
In the hands of an average writer, Six Hundred Hours of a Life could be a real snore-fest, with the repetition of the narrator's daily routine, in the flat voice of Edward Stanton. But much as Kazuo Ishiguro did in Remains of the Day, Craig Lancaster brings a wonderful sense of humor and empathy to this man who struggles so hard to find a connection to the world around him.
Edward freaks out whenever feelings enter into the routine of his day, and nothing inspires feeling in Edward's life more than contact with other people. But Lancaster slowly and deliberately introduces more personal disruptions to Edward's routine, all of which lead to scenes and relationships where Edward must learn to deal with change. When we see Edward waking up outside of his four-minute range, missing episodes of Dragnet, and forgetting to record his data, we wonder whether he's cracking up. But instead, with wonderful feeling and humor, Lancaster brings this man to an awakening that we don't anticipate. From a life of routine and order, we see Edward Stanton come to life through his experience with a woman trying to protect a child, and through his own father trying in the most awkward way to protect Edward himself.
It's a story told beautifully, and a transformation shown skillfully. Six Hundred Hours of a Life is a self-published novel that deserves to reach a wider audience, and Craig Lancaster is a writer who we should expect more great things from in the future.
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