by Roger Zotti
For Thurman P. Banks, Jr., Beyond John Dann, his debut novel, “isn’t just a book. It is a way of life [and is] about finding hope during troubling times in life—the ones we all face, as well as the ones John Dann faces alone, and that we hope we never have to.” It’s also about “accepting those moments we fail and appreciating the times we succeed, and being thankful for the life we have been given during both.” As you read the novel, you’ll realize you’re being challenged—along with John Dann, the protagonist— to “realize there is wisdom to be gained in every aspect of our lives.”
The Groton resident hopes readers “are inspired by the book” and take from it “the understanding that while the choices we make and the things that happen to us throughout life matter, it’s what we make of those decisions and occurrences that matter the most.” One of the book’s major aims is to push “readers to not only laugh a little easier but to look a little closer and search a little deeper” into their own lives.
While working on his novel, Thurman says, “I learned that I loved writing and have many stories to tell.” He adds that he’s working on a second novel, which should be published in a year. But writing itself “isn’t my greatest passion. Life and the search for a deeper understanding of it are. I don’t live to write. I write because I have lived.” As for authors who have influenced him, he says that “when it comes to reading, I’ll read any genre, any author, and I truly believe that every book has something you can take from it.”
Thurman’s book abounds with exceptional writing—specifically, philosophical insights about life. Here are three examples: First, “I think some people just feel the world more…even the cold harsh injustice it can bring, and without the knowledge that happiness can be made from nothing…” Second, “Admitting your sins to yourself is accepting who you are, admitting them to others is asking for redemption…” Third, “We so often spend our time searching for answers that we allow the questions to linger on, even when faced with the greatest truth—that some things just aren’t ours to know.”
There are also penetrating snapshot-like images of the characters. Of his mother, who fears being alone in life, John tells us, “…she has turned into an irony of madness.” Of his verbally and physically abusive father, a character both despicable and at times admirable, and who perhaps undergoes the novel’s biggest transformation, John says, “…when Dad was drunk and pleasant, he sounded drunk [but] when he was drunk and angry, he sounded sober…”
Set in Hayward, Connecticut, and beginning in the 1970s, John Dann tells his coming-of-age story from the vantage point of an adult who has survived a tumultuous upbringing. A story of survival, the novel is coupled with compassion, forgiveness, and humor. Thought-provoking, inspirational, often heart-wrenching, and written with pristine clarity, “Beyond John Dann” will stay with you long after you’ve read it.