||Feb 10, 2009
The 14 essays in this tidy little volume cover a lot of ground -- the search for self and deeper meaning in familial relationships, the wonderful risk that is love, finding your way back to old friends and old places, and coming to terms with life as it is. And then there's the most harrowing essay, The Motorcycle Crash, which vividly tells of a late-summer's ride gone terribly wrong.
Craig Lancaster's bookstore
When the big buck bolted into my path, I knew I was fucked. He was right there, and I had no time to do anything but slam on the brakes and put the bike down.
I was in the right-hand lane of the interstate, and by the time the left side of my body hit the asphalt at 55-60 miles per hour, my head was perpendicular to the median. I remember the feeling of my ribs crashing into the ground. The next thing I knew, I was on my back, half in and half out of the passing lane.
I’m not sure how I knew that my back was OK, but I did, and I rolled twice to get all the way off the highway.
I could hear Angie saying something behind me.
“Call 911,” I said, the voice barely coming out of me. “Call them now.”
I couldn’t breathe. The air was going out of me in a tiny whistle and coming back in gasps. Behind me, Angie
was hysterical as she talked to the dispatcher. “Hurry, he can’t breathe! He’s at … oh shit, honey, where are we?”
“We’re …” I had no air. I put my hands on the side of my helmet and felt the blood running in rivulets down
“Mile marker 37,” I heard, this from a voice not Angie’s. A guy who was traveling eastbound on I-94 had seen
the wreck, parked and dashed across the median to help. Behind us, another Good Samaritan was stopping traffic.
Angie, staying on the phone with the dispatcher while we waited for help, came over to me and said, “Craig,
who are Bodie and Zula? Who are Bodie and Zula?” She was trying to keep me from slipping away.
“Our dogs,” I gasped. I didn’t feel like I was going to go under. Alertness was not a problem for me. What was happening in my guts, I feared, could be. I had heard of people who died in car crashes with nary a scratch on their bodies; the kill shot came from the internal damage. My ribs were surely broken, and I had no lung capacity. I dared
not dwell on all the other ways I might be hurt.
The wait for help was interminable.
“When the fuck are they going to get here?” I choked out.
“They’re coming, buddy,” one of our Good Samaritans assured me.
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.
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