For his new book, The Long and Faraway Gone: A Novel, Lou Berney had two objectives: He wanted to tell a good story with two mysteries at the center and explore Oklahoma Citys growth into a dynamic city over the past quarter decade.
Two decades-old unsolved crimes drive the action; a mall shooting left one teenager inexplicably alive, and a young woman disappeared from the Oklahoma State Fair the same year.
The book follows the path of those connected to both tragedies. Unraveling at an easy pace, readers see the city as it was in 1986 and at present. We see most of the action through the eyes of the protagonist, Wyatt, as he navigates terrain he last visited as a teen. The book is in part a classic whodunit, with twists and a cast of characters that keep the reader guessing.
The story also delves into the heart of memory, the concept of home and whether there are ever any easy answers. Readers follow the narrative as the characters attempt to make sense of their lives and the events that shaped them.
The book hit shelves Feb. 10. Berney will spend weeks making public appearances to promote it.
Live artBerney knows the feeling of looking at two different Oklahoma Citys at once. Like the protagonist of Gone, he left OKC in the 1980s to attend college. He visited, but he didnt make Oklahoma home again until he moved with his family in the late 1990s. Like many who leave for a significant amount of time, he found the citys transformation astounding. He was also thrilled to find his memories crystal clear easy fodder to recreate the city of his youth.
When I drive down the street now, he said, Im like the characters in the book I see what was there 25 years ago and then I see whats here now. Im always seeing things in two dimensions.
The author admits he used artistic license with some places and people, but they are simply sly nods to the real articles. There are several hat-tips to the local color, both present and past, in the prose. Its part of what makes the effort such a joy for native Oklahomans to read.
Two major characters spend time at Cuppies & Joe, the cupcake and coffee shop on NW 23rd Street. The iconic Rainbow Records, once on the corner of NW 23rd Street and Classen Boulevard, plays a part in the action in 1986. Readers who know OKC will find several more incognito people and places.
I have complex feelings about Oklahoma City, Berney said. There are parts I love and there are parts I dont love, and its a complex, fascinating, gritty, dynamic place. I wanted to touch on that, and I hope those reading will appreciate that someones taken a good look at this place its not just flyover country.
Day jobIn addition to writing, Berney teaches in the Red Earth Low-Residency Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at Oklahoma City University. He enjoys teaching and helping other writers hone their craft.
Print headline: Memory lane, An Oklahoma author draws on his youth in OKC to create a taut, emotional mystery.