“Again and Again” is an unexpected pleasure.
It’s one of those books that you lose yourself in and is over way too soon. Some would call it a page-turner.
Jonathan Evison’s writing is as smooth as a well-aged single barrel whiskey and goes down just as satisfying. I guess you could call it a psychological mystery, if there is such a thing. I don’t recall ever seeing that as a sign on the shelves of a bookstore. Not a thriller, mind you, although there’s plenty of intrigue in the pages.
The novel follows the adventures and many lives of Eugene Miles, a lovable, curmudgeonly centenarian. He’s living out his final years in the Desert Greens assisted living facility in the shadow of the Ord Mountains and under the baking sun of the Mojave Desert of Southern California.
At least, he’s living out the final years of his latest life. Not only does Eugene believe in reincarnation, he remembers vividly all of his previous lives – 1,100 years of them.
“I have gone by Euric, Pietro, Kiri, Amura, York and Whiskers,” Evison writes, pulling the reader in from the first page.
He remembers being a street thief in Spain under the Moors in the Middle Ages, rescued by a beautiful young woman, a leader of the Christian resistance. It’s a story that’s part “Aladdin” and part “Casablanca,” Eugene, meanwhile, may well be a modern day “Don Quixote.”
Eugene can recall lives so vividly, even the skeptics who want to write him off as insane have to listen to him, whether he’s scouting the west with Lewis and Clark or lounging as a poetic pet in Victorian England.
Therein lies the mystery. Are these real lives or just the delusions of a lonely man reaching the end of his days?
The only thing that scares Eugene about death is serving another life. Even many lives haven’t gone so well for him.
“Nothing ever went to heaven; it just went somewhere else,” he tells us through Evison. “It was entirely possible that Jesus of Nazareth was till out there somewhere, working in a coal mine in Kentucky, or selling haberdashery in London. For all anyone knew, he was a cat, as I had once been.”
Eugene dreams of chasing through the centuries trying to find Gaya, the one true love of his life, the one who saved him in the streets of Spain 10 centuries before. Eugene becomes so obsessed with his one love that he ignores the chance to find more love along the way.
He scoffs at the other residents as busy-body bores and becomes irritated at Wayne, the resident therapist who is interested in Eugene’s psyche at almost an obsessive level.
Then there’s Angel, who lives up to his name, a young, caring orderly at the home who takes a genuine interest in Eugene. The young man becomes the only true friend “Gino,” – or “dog,” or “bro” as Angel calls him – in the entirety of all his lives.
It’s through Angel that Eugene learns at the end of his life what he’s been missing all along.
Be sure and have some tissues handy as you near the end.