Billy Coffey tells stories. He’s a master at telling stories. To understand why is to understand Coffey’s second novel, Paper Angels.
It’s not that Coffey was born to tell stories. That’s important, but it’s not really what matters.
Andy Sommerville is in the hospital, recovering from some kind of attack that involved Andy being burned. A counselor named Elizabeth is sent to help him sort through what’s happened and what he needs to do.
Together, Andy and Elizabeth sort through a box containing 12 items, most of which look worthless. A cap. Some napkins from Dairy Queen. Part of a fingernail painted red. A wad of chewed gum. A slingshot. A key chain. A few other things.
Monetarily worthless. Yet these are the things that Elizabeth and Andy will use to make sense of Andy’s life, and where he goes next. As worthless as they might seem, they represent what matters in Andy’s life. And they are important.
Coffey uses the stories to construct a larger story, the story of Andy Sommerville but also the story of each of us. We all have those major events we think of as the important milestones of our lives – marriage, graduations, births, deaths, recognitions, honors. In between the milestones are a lot of living and a lot of life – and that’s where we find the stories.
It’s in those stories we discover what really matters about our lives and ourselves, because the stories of our lives are what we are meant to be. And this is Coffey territory. This is the landscape he draws and paints, a landscape composed of both place and people.
This is the landscape Andy Sommerville travels. Those souvenirs in the box are more than artifacts and reminders. They are the DNA of a life.
No one describes that DNA better than Billy Coffey. No one.
My review of Billy Coffey’s first novel, Snow Day.
Bill Coffey blogs at What I Learned Today.