A review of Muir Woods or Bust by Ian Woollen

Reviewed by Jan Peregrine

Muir Woods Or Bust
by Ian Woollen
Coffeetown Press
Paperback: 216 pages, August 15, 2017, ISBN-13: 978-1603815970

“Gil clipped on sunglasses as he walked along…He knew he should get back into therapy to deal with Melody’s death. Years of surfing the consciousness of borderline, bipolar, and other ego alien states had taught him that the bottom line on psychological identity was no bottom line. Mutability ruled…”

There’s never been a more welcoming time in America than now for irreverent social satire, such as embraced by Ian Woollen’s latest called Muir Woods Or Bust. It winks and grins slyly as you determine to pick it up, a premonition of what you’ll soon be engaged in doing. I certainly welcome Woollen’s earthy, ground-shaking wit on display in its pages and you likely will also.

It’s not easy to set the stage. While reading aloud the back cover’s teaser to somebody, I’m afraid their eyes blinked a lot more than winked. My voice faltered, realizing my friend was mystified.

Let’s begin with a view from the balcony, shall we?

Gil Moss, a psychologist in Bloomington, Indiana, has recently lost his ecological activist wife who he still enjoys arguing with about their computer- hacking son ensconced in his room. With all the crazy weather happening, he believes that Eco-Mood Disorders are affecting his patients.

I think this new diagnosis bears similarity to Schizoaffective Disorder, if I remember correctly, and Moss’ concern is not only professional or inspired by his late wife.

He just managed to delete a manuscript he wrote about the iconic environmentalist John Muir, a Civil War draft dodger and friend of Gil’s wife’s ancestor who sheltered him after being blinded in a wicked factory accident. Fortunately it was a temporary affliction. Throughout the book Moss recalls passages from his lost manuscript that take turns amusing us with Muir’s backwoods simplicity and absorbing us with the self-discovery drama of his young life..

The satire opens up full-throttle when an elderly man from a nursing home appeals to the doctor for a respite from his loneliness. Where’s the satire in that? Well, the codger became a celebrated actor for a mock-up of Muir and that show infuriated Moss, but he feels unexpectedly drawn to the gruff man.

Then, after Gil tries retirement on for size, for complicated reasons, and two years go poof in smoke, he visits the actor. Ironically the man had planned for it and holds a stage gun on the doctor to force him to secretly drive them to California for auditions of a remake of his show. We’ll get to see Muir Woods too, but only because Gil’s son has hooked up with one of his father’s grad students to sell a wacky, therapeutic game called Phantom Vampire. Not that I’m a gamer, but this one sounds cool. We’re treated to its course of mayhem too!

Mostly this tale is told from the perspective of a smirky narrator you’ll catch winking as our characters cower in an underground cave with animals during a Midwestern twister, hop a sultry freight train, steal a car, connect via gaming philosophy, and hypnotize an obsessed cop.

Woollen’s novel upends the classic road trip with two farces of road trips, neither what you could ever expect, and that’s the beauty of it. I had no idea that all this zaniness would transform and snap-awake the mentally-stuck characters, somewhat like it could for the hapless environment stuck with a bad press, it seems to me. Muir Woods Or Bust, take the stage, please!

Now let’s say good-bye to the balcony and plop down there for a better looksee…

“They headed into Muir Woods. The giant forest and the long, laparoscopic beams of sunlight cast a healing glow…The forest brought recognition that, okay, realistically, that Gil part of this wild chase–finding his dad in Muir Woods—it was not going to happen. It wasn’t supposed to happen, because he was supposed to find something else. Cyberspace would never again supersede personal space.”

Maybe, you know, he speaks in a forest and we all will listen.

It’s not that simple to write satire, even if the American garden is riotous with weeds and the time is ripe. I write satire too, and am green with envy that Woollen produced it so verdurously (or ‘lushly’?).

About the reviewer: Jan Peregrine has tried her hand at self-publishing and has about seven she recommends on Amazon or Audible. She recently finished writing a romantic/comedic trilogy called Dr. Freudine Is In. You can find her on Facebook, but she’s not into Twitter where Trumpster reigns.