Somebody Else’s Troubles
J. A. English
Zimbell House Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Skyler Boudreau for Reader Views (5/2021)
“Somebody Else’s Troubles” by J. A. English is a love letter to culture. Drawing on his own intimate experiences with Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, this novel provides a portrait of the societal changes many towns and cities were forced to undergo during the 1970s in addition to bringing them on a trip to the beautiful island Mabuhay in the Caribbean.
Rife with vivid descriptions, English paints elaborate pictures of every setting his characters find themselves in, inviting his readers to step into the story alongside them. He takes them on a journey from Austin to Mabuhay, across different heritages and across the world. English has an impressive talent for writing lifelike portraits of these places that make his audience want to get on a plane and fly there themselves! English’s skill with words travels beyond his descriptions of Austin and Mabuhay. Providing his audience with beautiful settings is merely one aspect of his strength as a writer.
While vivid, exciting locations are an important part of any novel, it is the characters that truly make these settings come to life; this is another department that “Somebody Else’s Troubles” does not disappoint in. English’s Austin and Mabuhay are populated by a collection of people from all walks of life facing a plethora of their own personal challenges. Among them is a businessman who, torn apart by his nephew’s death, flees Austin and fakes his own death in the Caribbean. The audience also experiences Albert McNab’s point of view as he attempts to track this man down for the Atlantis Fidelity Insurance Company. While this extensive collection of unique and interesting characters provides many tracks for the audience to follow, it is not always beneficial in the long run.
This novel’s main weakness lies in its unity as a story. While the setting and characters draw the audience into a vivid atmosphere, the overall story lacks cohesion. The novel is 369 pages long, and it took over a hundred pages before it was even implied that any of the characters introduced had any connection to each other. While the characters and the various settings were interesting, none of them seemed to fit together until the end of the novel. It felt like reading many different chapters from many different novels at once. Attempting to incorporate a large array of points of view is an ambitious goal; sometimes it’s better to limit the narrators and focus on the most important ones. Several of these characters provided little more than additional chapters of unnecessary backstory. “Somebody Else’s Troubles” is a collection of different stories that need to be tied together in a more cohesive manner. Each one is interesting, but they need to be interesting in ways that relate to each other.
“Somebody Else’s Troubles” is an incredibly atmospheric novel. It will transport readers stuck at home to a gorgeous tropical landscape with the turn of a page. While it’s lack of cohesion does make the novel difficult to follow, the characters and the setting still make it worth a read.