The title character in Zach Boddicker’s debut novel, The Essential Carl Mahogany, is a middle-aged, mid level country musician who’s been dragged to yet another crossroads in his life. Decisions need to be made: Should he leave town or stay put? Rekindle a decades old relationship or forge ahead with a new one that may raise the ire of his boss? Is it finally time to replace his trusty old tour van? If he had his druthers, Carl would not deal with any of these dilemmas. He’s not given much choice though, and then he’s thrown a curveball that is simply too big to balk at.
In the world of this novel, Mahogany is not a household name in popular music. Carl has fans, but he’s the sort of entertainer you’ve probably heard on the radio but wouldn’t know from Adam if he was sitting on the barstool next to you. He’s world weary, but not so jaded that he can’t find the humor in the situations he finds himself in. These pickles include juggling two women—an ex who wants to follow him on tour under the guise of academic study, and a new flame who may be too good to be true. And then there’s his beloved pal Percy—a road weary warrior Ford Econoline van, which may be on a fast track to the salvage lot.
Carl is rather ambivalent at the state of his music career, his day job, his love life and the town he lives in. Things start coming to a head on all these fronts which makes going on tour an attractive alternative. The escape is short lived, however, as this solo tour, in support of a newly released career retrospective (titled The Essential Carl Mahogany) brings on more of what he’s been looking to avoid.
Boddicker creates characters that are likable and relatable as well as great dialogue with many of the best lines going to Carl and his 82-year-old landlord and friend Bill. They both are quick with a quip for any situation. Bill trends toward the common sense, folksy wisdom variety and Carl trades more in the understated smart-ass vein.
Carl’s Nashville days are behind him, but his best days may not be. The book ends on a promising note, but it seems as if much of Carl’s life has been full of promise shackled by his inability or reluctance to deliver.
Read the Reglar Wiglar interview with author Zach Boddicker here.