Five Things You Need to Know About Adventures in Nowhere
- Adventures in Nowhere is a trip into the mind of a thoughtful child, Danny Ryan. Danny analyzes everything that happens to him using a distinctive set of values, often arriving at surprising conclusions. Here’s a sample.
This action involved lying, which the sisters at Danny’s Catholic school, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, had tried to paint as evil in all forms, but they had not been able to make that precept stick with Danny, who could not see the harm in a lie with no ill effect. If a lie was not mean or nasty or was a matter of survival, he didn’t hesitate. However, on the few occasions when he had tried to lie for the wrong reason, he had been a failure. His mother would look at him and say, “Danny, your eyes tell me you’re lying.”
But Danny was spectacularly good at lying about trivial matters, and he could think of nothing more trivial than Alfred’s boundaries, which were arbitrary and enforced with whipping, which made them despicable. There was a great deal in life that Danny was unsure about, but he felt pretty sure that applying a belt to a boy’s back was wrong.
- Adventures in Nowhere is populated by a cast of quirky characters. Here’s an example.
Alfred asked one of his signature questions.
“Danny, what’d you do if a big black cigar appeared in your mouth?”
This was typical of Alfred, a boy who seemed completely at home in Nowhere. He was a scrawny, jug-eared child, given to odd pursuits like training his pet chicken to come and eat a cockroach when he slapped the floor. In this he had been extremely successful, and one of Alfred’s great diversions was to creep about the house with a fly swatter, looking for cockroaches. The bird was called Nickel because his parents had promised Alfred a nickel for every roach it ate. This was later reduced to a penny, but the name Nickel stuck.
- Adventures in Nowhere reveals the effect of a bipolar parent on his family, as is demonstrated in the following passage.
They had been riding along and, to all appearances, his father had been in a friendly frame of mind. Then something had happened. Danny had missed it, but some other driver may have made a little move with his car that no one else would have thought twice about. Whatever it was, Danny’s father suddenly got that twisted look on his face, and he had abruptly swung the car onto the unpaved shoulder of the road. In an instant, the Ryans’ old 1937 Dodge was careening along the uneven ground, parallel to the road. Inches from Danny’s door on the rider’s side was a low cement-block wall and beyond that the pauper’s cemetery, where they marked the graves by pounding a coffee can flat on a stake and hammering it into the ground.
Danny was frightened, but he knew that he must remain calm and keep looking down the road as if nothing unusual was going on. Ahead of him he could see the drivers on the roadway swerving as his father appeared unexpectedly on their right, only a foot from their fenders. Harold Ryan was threading a needle, but the clear area in front of the cemetery was running out, and ahead was a big oak tree blocking the way. There was no going to the right because of the wall, no going to the left because of the solid line of traffic, and no going ahead because of the tree. The only sane choice was to stop, but Mr. Ryan was not sane, so he had driven onward with leaden eyes, and Danny had held onto the door handle, silently watching the tree trunk come closer and closer.
- Adventures in Nowhere is a coming-of-age story, a style that brings the main character to a greater awareness of himself or his place in the world. Danny certainly needs this as the following quote illustrates.
Danny had to do something to get off the topic of angels. He didn’t understand it very well himself. If he answered any questions about angels, he would certainly get something wrong and further destroy the reputation of the Catholic Church. There could be a serious sin in that, maybe even mortal.
“This is good tea,” he said, holding up the glass.
“My goodness, there’s blood under your thumb!”
“Just from a sliver. It’s nothing.”
“You haven’t had good luck lately.”
“No, ma’am,” Danny said. “It’s been a tough week.”
Danny had the impulse to say just how tough, but he didn’t. Mrs. Bagley could not help him. Not even an angel could. Everything in his life was so delicately balanced that it would take God himself to unstack it without causing the pieces to fall into a calamitous heap that Danny might never be able to crawl out from under. He took a bite of his sandwich and chewed silently. Mrs. Bagley watched him, and her eyes filled again with tears, but Danny was too consumed by his thoughts to notice.
5. Adventures in Nowhere is set in the Florida community of Sulphur Springs, which is now only a memory.
Danny could look into Sulphur Springs proper, a place he had never figured out. It gave the appearance of having once been a resort or at least some kind of spot where people had wanted to come in times past. The main part was an arcade of stores topped by a hotel. Danny had been up in the hotel a few times, but it had an ominous feel, full of old people, some looking like bums and others just worn out. He had the sense that they’d come to Sulphur Springs long ago and gotten trapped somehow, unable to leave as the place went to seed around them.
The arcade contained numerous stores, among them a drugstore, a hardware store, a general merchandise store, and a pawn shop. The pawn shop was a source of continual fascination due to its extensive window display of switchblade knives and hand guns. Several other kinds of businesses also made their homes in the arcade, including the barber shop where Danny got his hair cut by a man who took a malicious pleasure in rubbing a child’s scalp nearly raw during the final application of hair oil.
On the street opposite the arcade was a row of pathetic shops, smelly with deterioration. A man in one of them had tried to sell Danny a plaster dog in a squatting position. Along with it came a bunch of little plugs. You were supposed to stick one in a hole in the dog’s rear-end and light it with a match. The man demonstrated the technique with the air of someone sure of a sale. As it burned, the plug produced a winding coil of something like feces but far longer. As it continued to mount up, the disturbing smile on the salesman’s face got broader and broader. When the show was finally over, the man turned triumphantly to Danny, who had seldom been so confused. He tried to imagine under what circumstances such a thing was brought out. What kind of people could enjoy it? This was simply more proof that the world was full of dark secrets. He bought a fake ink blot instead.
I hope these five insights have piqued your interest in Danny and his world. If so, look into Adventures in Nowhere.
John Ames has a master’s degree in English from the University of Florida, where he was a Ford Fellow. After graduation, he built a rustic house and lived for several years on the edge of a spiritual community located near Gainesville, Florida. John’s search for enlightenment ended when he decided that he was too far from a movie theater. He moved inside the Gainesville city limits and taught English and film for thirty years at Santa Fe College.
He has produced and acted in numerous short films and videos, including the cable TV series the “Tub Interviews,” wherein all the interviewees were required to be in a bathtub. For ten years he reviewed movies for PBS radio station WUFT. He has appeared as a standup comedian and has designed and marketed Florida-themed lamps. He coauthored Second Serve: The Renée Richards Story (Stein and Day, 1983) and its sequel No Way Renée: The Second Half of My Notorious Life (Simon & Schuster, 2007), and Speaking of Florida (University Presses of Florida, 1993).
His recent book is a coming-of-age novel titled Adventures in Nowhere.
You can visit his website at www.johnamesauthor.com.
Book Description from GoodReads:
Before Disney and far from the palm-lined Florida beaches, ten-year-old Danny Ryan is transplanted to a tiny community on the hyacinth-choked Hillsborough River outside Tampa, a place his older sister calls Nowhere. But for Danny and his best friend, the irrepressible Alfred Bagley, whose fondest desire is to grow up to be a junk dealer, Nowhere is where adventures lurk and lure them into more trouble than they can handle. More trouble is not what Danny needs as he copes with a family that includes a father sinking into schizophrenia; two sisters, one very ill and the other ready to run away with a shady boyfriend; and a mother trying her best to hold it all together. Adventures in Nowhere paints a compelling, imaginative, and often humorous vision of a time, a place, and a way of growing up, allowing a reader to live for a while in the mind of a remarkably thoughtful and intense boy caught at the final edge of childhood.