Where You Belong
by Patrick Dilloway
In my review of Saul Bellow's "The Adventures of Augie March" I wrote:
"When I thought about it deeper and looked more closely I decided what gave this "great American novel" status is not the story itself but the underlying sense of optimism as Augie never loses hope even after the love of his life leaves him and his Merchant Marine freighter gets torpedoed. It's that same spirit that sent explorers to these shores and propelled pioneers ever westward in search of Manifest Destiny."
In a much similar fashion, "Where You Belong" by Patrick Dilloway is a Great American novel in spirit because while the protagonist of the story--a man with the unlikely name of Frost Devereaux--loses the love of his dreams, he never gives up hope of finding a better life just around the next corner.
Another novel "Where You Belong" draws comparisons to is John Irving's "The World According to Garp" and not just because the main characters in both have unusual names. Like Garp, Frost Devereaux is raised for a time by a nurse (though in this case the nurse is not his mother) and grows up to become a writer. Unlike Garp, though, Frost is never able to find and hold on to his one true love.
Through most of his life, Frost's true love is Frankie Maguire. Frankie, an energetic tomboy who dreams of becoming a Broadway star, is Frost's best friend and first crush, who abandons him in junior high to seek out older boys. This leaves Frost with a hole in his heart that is never filled until Frankie returns to him. If this were a fairy tale they would ride off and Live Happily Ever After, but this isn't a fairy tale.
Frost's search for a love that lasts leads him across the United States, from his boyhood home in an Iowa town noted for the stench of the fertilizer it produces to an all-boys school in upstate New York with a dark secret to an artist's colony in New Mexico presided over by a French-Canadian lumberjack to the Manhattan apartment of Frankie's twin brother, a powerbroker in the Gordon Gekko mold. Each step along the way Frost discovers more about the world, the people he cares about, and himself.
I really enjoyed this book because of that Great American Novel spirit I talked about and its similarities to "Garp." Like the better John Irving novels, Mr. Dilloway attempts to tackle a large social issue without losing sight of the personal story. The character of Frost Devereaux is depicted as naïve and vulnerable, especially when it comes to his feelings for the Maguire twins, which in some ways makes him a more sympathetic character than TS Garp who, let's face it, could be a real jerk by sleeping with babysitters and so forth. By contrast, Frost is the one who gets cheated on, not the one who cheats.
Still, for the seriousness of the topics covered in the novel, it never loses a dark sense of humor, putting Frost in bizarre situations and with even more bizarre characters. For that reason fans of Irving's work should love this novel. Of course it wouldn't really be fair to compare the writing of a young unknown like Mr. Dilloway to great authors like John Irving or Saul Bellow. There are few who can really compete on that level. Nevertheless, the story is solidly written and hopefully the start of more to come.
That is all.