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Book talk: Man struggles to connect during tough times in ‘At Dawn’

Akron Beacon Journal—November 11, 2012

Narrator has it tough ‘At Dawn’
Stratton Brown looks good on paper. The narrator of At Dawn, Spencer native Jobie Hughes’ new novel, has a college degree in finance, experience at a New York brokerage and a state athletic championship on his résumé. After he loses the brokerage job, and then two more,he relocates to Chicago and applies for any job he can find.

It’s a huge relief for Stratton when he finds work, though it’s a low-paying job far below his skill level. In a more sanguine time, his fortunes would improve; he’d work diligently and soon be back on his feet. But this is a novel of the recession.

In his interview, Stratton assures the hiring manager that the discipline that made him an All-American in wrestling applies to his “approach to life and work.” But Stratton sabotages his job; in his private life, having begun a relationship with a young woman he rescued from her abusive boyfriend, he flies into jealous rages.

With the insight Hughes gives us into Stratton’s childhood in Spencer, son of a violent drunk, we can understand that this character has had no good examples to show him the discipline he claims he possesses, no way to acquire the emotional stability to weather the tough times.

Before he receives his first paycheck, he goes hungry for days, but it never occurs to him to find a church or organization that might provide him a meal. Other than the hospitality his landlord offers, Stratton is disconnected from community. How many times have you heard someone who lived through the Depression say, “We didn’t know we were poor — we had each other?”

Jobie Hughes, like his character, was state champion in wrestling when he attended Black River High School. His website states that he is the “coauthor of two previous novels, both of which were #1 New York Times Best Sellers,” but their names are pointedly omitted.

They are I Am Number Four and The Power of Six, both written with James Frey under the joint pseudonym of Pittacus Lore; a third book, The Rise of Nine, was released in August. Frey is controversial not only for his memoir A Million Little Pieces, which was exposed as having been partially fabricated, but for his brutal contracts with eager MFA students like Hughes who signed up to work with him. Hughes’ website says he is working on his “second novel,” The Gates of Pyrrhus.

At Dawn (352 pages, softcover) costs $15.95 from Soft Skull Press. Hughes will sign his books from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Medina County District Library, 210 S. Broadway St.

— Barbara McIntyre

Special to the Beacon Journal

“At Dawn is the brave, rare sort of novel that finds extraordinary meaning in ordinary lives. The characters are beautifully complex, honorable and compassionate, and yet, like so many of us, deeply flawed and emotionally scarred. The writing is clean and sharp and vivid, and in reading Jobie Hughes I’m reminded of the tremendous power of simple honesty in storytelling. This is a fine book by a fine writer.”

James Brown
Author of The Los Angeles Diaries and This River

“Hughes' debut novel, At Dawn, follows a former All-American wrestler, and is there any better metaphor for contemporary American life? We're all wrestling, tussling with the economy, no jobs, doing the best we can. Hughes doesn't flinch from the tough existential questions. He embraces them.”

Joshua Mohr
Author of Damascus

“Hughes combines coming-of-age tale, portrait of the artist as a young man, and father-son saga in a well-crafted novel...[with] pathos, wit, and insight into the relationships that define our lives.”

Publishers Weekly