Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer

Faraway Places by Tom Spanbauer Book Cover
During a fateful summer, 13-year-old Jake Weber witnesses the brutal murder of a Native American woman by the town banker. Jake's parents forbid him to speak of the killing or name its perpetrator, even as the woman's African-American lover stands falsely accused.
Genre: Contemporary
Available from: Amazon UK | Amazon US

Heavenly, poetic and free – These are the words I’d use to describe one-side of Tom Spanbauer’s writing. However, Faraway Places also includes the opposite; dark, violent and honest in its portrayals of human life.

Due to its racial overtones and subversive nature, this coming-of-age novel is often compared with To Kill A Mockingbird.

Along with said book, it’s incredibly transgressive. It’s also a testament to Spanbauer’s writing that even in today’s society, it still hits hard, at both your brain and your heart.

Tom Spanbauer

I’d say that Faraway Places was my coming out, not as a queer man yet but, even more important, as a writer.

Tom Spanbauer

Faraway Places is Spanbauer’s 1988 debut novel. He’s the founder of Dangerous Writing, a term he coins as; writing that speaks to the reader’s heart and allows them to connect emotionally to the characters.

To do this, the writer must write dangerously, opening themselves up to let others in.

A sense of adventure

The characters in Faraway Places are remarkable and I cannot speak highly enough of them. Following 13-year-old Jake Weber, we learn of his family life on the farm with his mother and father, as well as his sense of adventure.

These adventures bring him towards the river he knows he’s not allowed to swim in, but the overwhelming joy of doing so is too much to contain.

Jake is written with brilliant naivety, taking everything at face-value, including not discriminating against the black folk living nearby, unlike the adults in the story.

This same naivety leads him into an unknown world that’s filled with freedom, but it comes at a cost.

When one of the black women is beaten and killed by their white landlord within view of Jake, he has some tough decisions to make.

He chooses to pursue the woman’s lover in the hopes of understanding why.

Nothing here is ever set in stone. With the gaining of knowledge comes more choices, and more questions.

If Jake is to do the right thing, it could come at a considerable cost to his family, and their farm.

Identity of the Unknown

There’s certainly a great sense of identity in Faraway Places, and I don’t just mean in the style of the book.

As I watched, I realized he wasn’t really a nigger. He was an Indian, like Sugar Babe.

Tom Spanbauer, Faraway Places

Those that are little known to the family, such as ‘the black folk’, are completely misidentified and misunderstood.

I think that’s the point that hits home hardest reading this. We have come along so far, yet some of the more ugly traits of society still remain.

I’m sure you’ll agree, Tom Spanbauer has a great knack of getting under your skin with philosophical questions pointed squarely at civilisation; looking at what it means to love, and to be loved.

Closing Thoughts

Faraway Places is a book that drills straight to the core of race; the discrimination, the politics and most of all, the misunderstandings.

Spanbauer doesn’t hide away from any of it, including plenty of racial slurs and stereotypes, all played out by the more ‘well-to-do‘ white-folk.

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