‘My Father’s Ashes’ by Bruce Jenvey

Story: Diane Dean

A young man’s journey through his father’s life

This novel by Bruce Jenvey felt like “old home week” for many in the Bookworm Book Club. The author, who was born and raised in Michigan and is a Michigan State University graduate, visited our book club for a discussion of his latest novel. Bruce says the town names are real, and the actual names and addresses of the characters are those of real people the author has known. A book club member even knew one of the people he mentioned. Small world!
The main character, Daniel, never knew his father, Robert Peterson, during his lifetime, but he learned who his father was after the older man’s death. As the beneficiary of his father’s estate, Daniel was required to visit different locations his father enjoyed and distribute his ashes with people who loved him and shared his enthusiasm for life. Peterson was a prolific children’s author known as “Professor Poppyseed,” but the innocence of that name did not reflect the depth of the charismatic writer who earned the loyalty of his friends. These friends revealed to Daniel the many sides of his father’s personality.
Daniel’s travels took him from a nursing home in California to a serene lakeside cottage in New York, with stops in the Tennessee hills and a bar filled with characters on the shores of Mississippi. The story was sprinkled with the mention of Michigan sites such as Grand Rapids, Selfridge Air Base, and Whitefish Point.
Daniel’s mother deprived him of contact with his father and effectively controlled Daniel’s life. Next, the family of his fiancée—and the plans they had for how his life was to be lived— controlled his future. Daniel followed their lead, even as his discomfort with the direction grew. As he “found” himself and who he really could be, he learned several things. He realized that both writers and artists create from what they see and the way they see it. Daniel said the most important thing he learned was that despite everything, “There’s always a chance you can still turn out to be your father’s son, and that’s not such a bad thing.” Subsequently, he canceled his engagement and pursued writing the story of his journey to learn about his father.
The book’s characters were interesting, the concept intriguing, and the love of writing and books evident. Kathy Porter, the leader of the book club, interviewed Bruce, and we learned his favorite authors are Clive Cussler and Stephen King. He mentioned King’s “On Writing” book as an inspiration for authors, and urged aspiring writers not to get discouraged.
Bruce wrote a fictionalized saga called “Cabbottown Witches,” with titles of “Angela’s Coven,” “The Great Northern Coven,” and “The Ragtime Coven,” all tales of the paranormal. He also started his own publishing company in order to self-publish.
Bruce says he cast the characters in his book with real-life actors and pictured them as he wrote the story. Book club members were invited to cast the book as a movie themselves. We offered our casting suggestions and visualized the characters coming to life on our imagined movie screen.
Do any of us know who our parents were before they were our parents? Do we know the stories of their fears and comedic episodes? Do we know the depth of the friendships they cherished throughout their life? Do our children know those things about us? These concepts made us consider our personal history and the legacy we leave.


Member Comments 

I’ve lived in Michigan my entire life (except the past four years), so I found it very enjoyable to revisit all the places mentioned in the book that were so familiar to me. This story was the journey of a son who never knew his father, but through the quest to spread his father’s ashes, he was able to know his father through the people associated with his father’s life. I particularly liked one character’s philosophy on life which basically stated that our past is just baggage and describes who we were; it is not who we are today. This was a great read and got me thinking about my ashes!
Carole La Pine
Village of Hemingway

I enjoyed this book. It saddened me and made me laugh at the same time. It is a bittersweet tale: bitter because a son grew up thinking his father abandoned him as a young child, and sweet because the son comes to love and respect the father he never knew. At the end of his journey, and because of the lessons taught to him along that journey, the son finds the courage to change his old, structured life and embrace his own dreams. A thoroughly good read!
Jean Setaro
Village of Woodbury

This novel reads like a treasured family recipe: Several cups of mystery with a dash or two of intrigue, a liberal sprinkling of love, well-mixed with humor, and then frosted with the contentment of self-discovery. A truly enjoyable book with a unique story line!
Kathy Porter
Rio Ponderosa

 

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