Searching for Van Gogh: a novel

Donald Lystra

Publisher: Omena Hills Press Pages: 272 Price: (paperback) $18.95 ISBN: 9798989772407 Reviewed: May, 2024 Author Website: Visit »

Donald Lystra’s Searching for Van Gogh is a well-crafted, thought-provoking, coming-of-age novel focusing on two young people searching for their place in the world, who connect via similar life experiences.

Set in fall of 1963, as the Vietnam War rages, the story introduces narrator Nate Walker, 17, who has decided to forego college and move out of his parents’ house. He’s working at a car factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and coping with the loss of his brother, a talented pianist who entered the military at his father’s insistence, then died in an army training accident. Nate has begun painting, hoping to “see more deeply into life.”

Painting on the riverbank one day, he meets Audrey Brubaker, a slightly older woman who makes money by enticing businessmen to partake of her walking tours of the city. She has a passion for Dale Carnegie and furniture design. As they become friends, their conversations lead to two road trips: one, to Audrey’s parents’ house to retrieve a baptismal outfit she made for an infant she lost; the second to the army base where Nate’s brother is buried, to retrieve the body and return it to Nate’s mother.

Lystra skillfully weaves in details of character and action to reveal the underlying similarities of two seemingly different individuals. Both Nate and Audrey have been jilted in recent relationships, lost a family member, share artistic interests, and have chosen non-traditional life paths. Both are distanced from their parents: Audrey because of her recent pregnancy, and Nate because he isn’t in college.

The story moves at a steady pace, rewarding readers with its reveal of emotions, secrets and innuendos throughout. The author also crafts vivid descriptions, as when Nate watches his brother play piano, ” hands racing … along the keyboard like frantic little animals…”

Lystra’s novel will particularly resonate with those who remember the ’60s era and culture, as well as readers interested in themes of family, friendship, loss, and healing.

Also available in hardcover and ebook.

Author's Current Residence
Omena, Michigan
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