A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

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A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

By Nate Ragolia

Like James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon before him, Jordan A. Rothacker takes on the epic novel in his masterful debut, And Wind Will Wash Away (hereafter referred to as AWWWA). AWWWA tells the story of Atlanta Police Detective Jonathan Wind, an observant, intellectual, no-nonsense sleuth cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes and Joe Friday.

In Rothacker’s own words, Jonathan Wind is “A dash of one friend, a dollop of another, fold in some traits from Philip Marlowe, a little zest of Agent Dale Cooper, a pinch of K. from Kafka’s The Castle, two cups of Faust, and then stir and forget all of that as I start to see the new creation congealing out of the mess.” And Wind is all of these ingredients and more, fully-realized and alive.

Set in 2003, we follow Wind after a fight with his girlfriend Monica that leaves him frustrated and seeking the affection of his mistress, Flora. Typical of the noir genre, Wind’s future hinges on the power of the phone call. Two calls set up his coming journey: the first, to his mistress, that ends when another man answers the phone; the second, from his partner, calling him to the scene of a murder where the victim just happens to be that same mistress.

Rothacker ups the ante and the energy, revealing that Flora died mysteriously in a hyper-localized fire. While his partner and the police force disagree, Jonathan Wind suspects foul play. At this point, AWWWA makes a powerful leap from crime noir to postmodern exploration. Rothacker’s adeptness at this switch is impressive. He carefully blends philosophy, myth, and religion into his protagonist’s forward-charging pursuit of the truth behind his lover’s death. What results is a mystery on par with Twin Peaks that embraces spiritualism and madness, blurring the lines between superficial realities and those beneath that we’ve trampled through cycles of colonialism, war, law, and order.

Truly, AWWWA is a unique reading experience. Rothacker imbues his book with Tarantino-like dialogue spoken by deep, lively characters. The setting, Atlanta, Georgia, is  a surging, breathing entity, with its twisting spaghetti of roadways tangled up in its own complicated history that is as much Detective Wind’s partner as his home. History, philosophy, and religion are their own characters in AWWWA. Rothacker–who prefaces the novel with his background in Religious Studies–infuses Wind’s twisting mystery with figures from Aztec, Mayan, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other backgrounds. Case interviews result in deep, revelatory conversations that are as instructional as they are entertaining. In short, this novel is deep and rewarding, influenced by the great works that preceded it.

“[Joyce] was my first really profound literary love,” Rothacker said in an interview. “At 17 I was a member of the International James Joyce Foundation. Other than lots of linguistic puns and ‘larding’ the text for my own amusement, what I used from Joyce is that device in Ulysses where every chapter has it’s own theme and governing principle.” Rothacker paces the entire book so one never feels as though they’re waiting in the back row of a comparative religion classroom, watching the clock. Instead, each page commands to be turned, captivating you–and Detective Wind–with Flora’s mysterious death. The result is an engaging story that blends the ordered cleverness of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe with the worldly, thoughtful interactions of My Dinner With Andre. Readers will pursue Jonathan Wind on his search for real answers amid the degrees of unknowable throughout Atlanta and beyond.

This is a story as much about the case of a dead lover as of secret lives, of dark magic or strange rituals. And Wind Will Wash Away is a story about the self and the shrouded mysteries within. Jordan Rothacker is one of the most masterful writers I have ever read, and this novel is an opportunity to enter into a conversation with him that will surely be longer, grow more personal and complex. Treat yourself by reading And Wind Will Wash Away immediately, and take your own journey toward truth.

Jordan A. Rothacker, And Wind Will Wash Away, Deeds Publishing, 2016: $24.95

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Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.

Writers on the Writing Life: Steven Gillis

Cover of Steven Gillis's 2010 novel out from Black Lawrence Press

I miss teaching.  If I could find the time in my days, I would return in a heartbeat to Eastern Michigan University.  Not that this is possible with all the other irons my fire is heating, and with my wife’s threat to leave me if I take on one more freaking thing!  And true, too, even when I had my gig as a writing professor, I was operating outside the norm; able to pick the time I taught and the one class I would teach a semester to upper level writing students.  I didnt have to commit to a full-time course load, didnt have to participate in the administrative bullshit that can suck the soul right out of an already stressed writer working a heavy teaching schedule while trying to squeeze out time to actually do their own writing.

Most of my writer friends who have gigs as professors or lecturers at a University find the job has a combination of cool and cruel to it.  They enjoy being able to spend their working hours invested in the near and dear of literature and writing, but the grind of the long hours and trying to impart their knowledge to students who – most at least – wont ever demonstrate any appreciable skills as “real”  writers has an exhausting effect.  You can’t teach writing.  I have heard that phrase tossed about so many times that before I began to teach I almost believed it.    The fact of the matter is the claim simply isnt true.   You can teach writing.  You can’t give someone talent.  But you can teach someone the process of writing and improve what skills they have.  And isnt this what teaching is all about?  Not to make rock stars out of the tone deaf, but to share what you know and help those who sincerely want to improve.  The best experiences I had as a teacher were working with my less gifted students who nonetheless truly wanted to learn how to write.

As I have now been a writer going on – Christ – 40 years, I also found what I love most about teaching is the ability to explain the process and get students to understand there’s no such thing as a muse, what there is to writing is a blue collar roll up your sleeves and just do it attitude that Nike be damned existed well before the running shoe.
When I first started writing, I had the passion but was otherwise clueless about the process.  Leaving talent out of the equation for the moment, it is most often the lack of experience that undermines a well intended would-be writer.  When a young writer has a bad day, their immediate reaction is to question their abilities, to think they must suck and what the hell what the hell what the HELL!! It is only after staying the course as a writer that we begin to learn that the process doesn’t ever change, that having a rough day – or week or month – doesnt mean one cant write it means you are a writer experiencing the inescapable torture.   The only thing important is doing the work.  Daily.  Where I used to go crazy with insecurity, I am now totally calm about the process, know a rough day is still a productive day, that the key is just working the page.

This is what I tried to convey to my students, how writing is a freakin discipline, that you have to work hard.  There is never – and I mean never – a day when I finish writing that I am not completely physically and mentally exhausted.  If anyone has the misfortune of trying to deal with me in the hour after I finish my writing day, well lets just say its not pretty.  Writing is hard.  It takes a focus like none other.  You cant write if you are distracted, the application of one’s efforts have to be total. And you can’t write if you aren’t willing to commit.

An older and quite successful writer once told me it takes 10 years of writing shit before one even begins to know what they are doing.  Well, as much as I didnt want to believe this at the start of my career, I can surely attest to this now.  So, how to convey this to a classroom full of young and eager students who think they are top dog and ready to  publish.  What I did in my class, which cut against the grain and shocked the hell out my students each and every new semester, was to tell them instead of writing 5 stories during our term together, we were going to write one story each and rewrite it at least 5 times.
“WHAT?”  was the response.  “Rewrite?  What the hell is that?”  They all just wanted to crank and move on to something new.   I held my ground.  Class after class.  And class after class, always, within 3 weeks these students who had never rewritten a story before, had never put themselves back into a work, began to groove on the idea of actually reworking a story.  At the end of every semester, always, these initially dubious students thanked me for showing them what is the essence of all good writing – the rewrite.

That the art to writing is in the rewriting is, for me, a given – now.  Along with understanding the process of writing, these two rules are invaluable.  (The third rule would be to read read read and READ.  The fourth to drink, but I digress.)    Everything in life evolves and changes, requires a rewrite and a knowledge of what is going on.  Relationships change, how we keep our love life going.  I have been married 17 years and  the totality of my relationship with my wife has evolved in 1,000 different ways since we were 17 years younger.  What is the same about me is no doubt my extremes have become more understandable – at least to me if not my wife – my settling into the routine of what I need to achieve in my personal and professional life.  Everything is a process.    Everyday a writer must apply his/herself to the challenge and run the risk of writing shit, of exhausting one’s self physically and emotionally and intellectually.  The same as we do with any worthwhile relationship.  What is essential to whatever it is we want to do is hanging tough.  With writing – and in life – the process doesnt necessarily get easier but it becomes more readily understood the longer we stay the course. An old dog of a writer knows how to get through bad days, knows not to panic in the face of a rough stretch.  As said, in this way the experience one gathers as they commit to the process of writing is much the same as the process of maturing in our everyday life. Understand the effort, know not every day will be a success.  Be aware that not everything goes smoothly and most things require a rewrite.  This is what I’ve come to learn and is the best advise I can give.

Steven Gillis is the author of Walter Falls, The Weight of Nothing, Giraffes, Temporary People, and, most recently The Consequence of Skating (October 2010). His stories, articles, and book reviews have appeared in over four dozen journals, and his books have been finalists for the Independent Publishers Book of the Year Award and the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year. A three-year member of the Ann Arbor Book Festival Board of Directors, and a finalist for the 2007 Ann Arbor News Citizen of the Year, Steve taught writing at Eastern Michigan University and founded 826michigan in 2003.  Steve is the co-founder of Dzanc Books  www.dzancbooks.org along with Dan Wickett.  All proceeds from Steve’s writing go to help support Dzanc Books. Contact: steve@dzancbooks.org