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Press

Here's what the press is saying about James Eke:

 
Potholes plague road to enlightenment
 
Debut novel about spiritual quest proves
one mans breakdown is anothers nirvana

Kitchener-Waterloo Record
Aug. 31, 2002
 
By Willa McLean
Falling Backwards starts off with a beautifully evocative description of rock climbing. Author James Eke takes us along as his hero scales The Chief, a rock monolith overlooking Squamish, B.C. Vicariously, we experience the sun and the wind and the ecstasy of shedding the mundane minutia of daily life.
As he clings to the rockwall, "holding on, breathing, climbing, relaxing," the narrator has a sudden, intense, out-of-body experience, in which he is flooded with enlightenment.
He sees his life as a bad dream come true, and thus begins the spiritual quest which became the focus for Falling Backwards.
The next day, this young professional begins his daily jog and never returns. He leaves a loving wife, a good job, and a new home on the Sunshine Coast (a paradise on Earth). He hops a ferry to Vancouver, wearing only his jogging shorts and fanny pack--a Canadian Jack Kerouac.
At first I felt nothing but exasperation for this self-indulgent boomer, with his severe centre-of-the-universe complex. How could he be on the peak of a mountain one day, and shooting up heroin with a group of losers in Stanley Park the next?
You can almost hear Peggy Lee keening Is That All There Is? as you read Eke's description of commuters as "drone drivers, gray and unmoving in their metal coffins on their way to yet another day in 45 years of work to eventually be told to pack their bags and get out."
The alternative, however, doesn't seem much more stimulating. The sights, sounds and particularly the smells of the vagabond street life are captured vividly in Falling Backwards. The days spent sitting on a street corner, "small sign in front of me, scribbled in a black magic marker, asking for money. I'd just sleep, and hope to find a few coins when I woke up."
The narrator described how he became invisible to everyone but bus drivers, cops and guard dogs.
Pizza is the street food of choice. It is cheap, "and has most of the food groups in it. Dumpster diving for bottles to pay for a slice doesn't take long." Yuk!
Theres also an element of casual brutality on the streets which seems to become almost contagious.
The narrator is not only verbally insulted by passersby, but physically abused by skinheads and drug users. In turn this sensitive, caring human being becomes a leach, callously taking advantage of those who do try to help him.
After our hero has reached such a low ebb that he hardly recognizes his own image in the mirror, he finally realizes he has to get clean to survive.
He vividly describes the seizures, hallucinations and pain, noting "hell couldn't be much worse than heroin withdrawal." He decides that to keep clean, he'll have to leave the streets and head for the Rockies.
Eke writes with humourous insight of the joys of bus travel and of the adventures to be experienced hitchhiking on the Trans-Canada Highway everything from gorgeous nymphomaniacs driving sportscars, to pot-smoking hippies driving vans.
The title Falling Backwards refers to the narrators obsession with an obscure monk, St. Joseph of Copertino, who could levitate backwards and forwards.
He was such a dim monk that Amen was the only part of vespers he could remember. The church, however, considered him a threat, and rewarded his religious rapture by putting him before the Inquisition in the 1600s.
Nevertheless, our spiritual pilgrim is searching for the same kind of blast of enlightenment that actually makes one lighter.
But did he finally experience this bliss?
The author makes the observation that the end pages of a book always leave one hoping that the writer would pen another story continuing exactly where that book left off.
Falling Backwards really calls for a sequel. Its a thought-provoking, contemporary first novel by journalist James Eke, night news editor at the Guelph Mercury newspaper.

-Willa McLean is a freelance writer and radio producer who lives in Kitchener.

Destinations and Discoveries magazine
August 2002, page 44

Falling Backwards
Reviewed by Deborah Quaile

Guelph resident James Eke has been busy with the launch of his first novel, Falling Backwards,performing readings, giving interviews, and of course, autographing books.
The story is deeply descriptive, with a strong tug of language that launches readers into the author's story space. Written in the first person, the flow of text is not perfectly lyrical, but comes into range with short, quick points that jab their significance home.
The story opens with the main character climbing a mountain, finding a sweet peace and cool calmness in his "reality now" vision. "Everything seemed to make sense, that life in its infinite sadness and tragic shortness was actually pretty simple: find happiness, find meaning and live."
Yet after the clarity of his revelation, the narrator soon finds himself on a quest. After some bad dreams and thoughts about how "people too often see only the leaves on the tree, masks hiding the true self behind," he hits the road running, and doesn't turn back. Although it wasn't possible for him to yet recognize why, or how, or what was going to happen next, he knew that it was a certain turning point in his life. The narrator continues on his mad sprint to escape, looking to find... "something," James Eke says. After a stagnant life, being on the run with absolutely no agenda or money became exciting. The weight lifted, the narrator felt taller, stronger, and more assured. He was ready to attempt the unknown.
With a cast of bizarre characters, such as the band of hiking monks or the drug addicts hiding in deep bush in Vancouver's Stanley Park, Eke weaves an intense tale of lost and found. His short, staccato chapters are easy bites of words to devour, but digesting them takes a little more contemplation.
Falling Backwards is a strange journey, but well crafted and well written. The chronicle of one man's
change, its pain, agony, elation, freedom and captivity are crucial to the continuously upset balance of emotion. Within the setting, Eke also discusses the complete lack of emotion many humans have for one another, that we can live together in cities and be oblivious to the "hurt, begging, bleeding, lost and broken." Ignoring crisis in other lives does not help people to find themselves. In such great cities of nothingness, people can be noticeably hollow, or only filled with the existence of self.
Within Eke's story confines, readers are never really sure where the narrative will end up, or how the tale could parallel their own lives and that's what keeps them reading, and hoping for that elusive something.


 
Desperately seeking Zen

By Jim Bartley
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, August 17, 2002


We first observe James Eke's unnamed narrator as he clings to a cliff face. Climbing offers reviving thrills to this man numbed by an enslaving job and a loveless marriage. He dreams of letting go, literally -- of falling backward into nothingness. His adopted saint is Joseph of Copertino, said to have possessed the divine gift of flight.
One day, our young man heads out for his morning jog in suburban Vancouver and never returns home. On board a ferry to the city, he befriends a heroin addict, and by day's end he has succumbed to the lure of narcotic oblivion. He resurfaces the next day in a grotty city shelter, his body crying out for a fresh fix.
Precariously avoiding addiction, he remains an urban drifter, never contacting his wife or former friends, sleeping on rooftops to escape the stench of other indigents. One day, he meets a student who shares his interest in levitating saints. An exchange on transcendence leads our narrator to so covet the student's religious books that he steals them, then uses the theft to fuel speculation on Zen states -- was it an act of "crazy wisdom," or simply callous and impulsive? Guilt-ridden, he arranges the return of the books.
His face begins to appear on missing-person posters, urging him further afield. After some intense but inconclusive sexual encounters, he attempts to live Walden-like in a one-room shack by a mountain stream. A clutch of Buddhist monks appears near his cabin. They spend the night, leaving our narrator with a renewed lease on transcendence. But it's not until he is again dangling a from a cliff that he finds true enlightenment.
Eke's story shares the haphazard trajectory of its protagonist, but manages to pull the reader along in hope that this floundering pilgrim will get his act together -- or better, suffer a ringing judgment. The novel's ending is elaborately mystical. We're skillfully prepared for the scene, and the imagery is arresting, but the message of redemption is rosy-hued and unconvincing.

Jim Bartley is The Globe and Mail's first-fiction reviewer.
 
 

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Through the heart of darkness
James Eke's debut novel a modern spiritual quest on the fringes
Saturday June 1, 2002
ERIC VOLMERS
GUELPH MERCURY STAFF

It was during a visit to a Vancouver area market that James Eke came face to face with a Buddhist monk.

Fascinated by the prospect of gaining some spiritual insight from the man, the newspaper editor and fledgling novelist attempted a conversation, only to be stopped short by a language barrier.

"It was so frustrating," Eke said. "I really, really wanted to talk to this guy. He had obviously come straight from China. Here was this Buddhist monk. It was so cool."

The fractured conversation that followed appears almost word-for-word in Eke's debut novel, Falling Backwards, offering one of the story's more surreal moments.

Described by his Victoria-based publisher Ekstasis Editions as a "modern day quest" to find the meaning of life, Eke's novel unfolds in the first person and follows the adventures of an unnamed protagonist as he wanders Vancouver's streets, the B.C. interior and the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains in a state of deep angst.

After suddenly turning his back on his wife and comfortable life, the character disappears into a fringe world of junkies, monks, philosophers, skinheads, street-wise lesbians and other larger-than-life characters who inhabit his search.

"Really what it is is a street story," Eke said. "It's about people on the street and those dark corners that nobody really notices. A good writer shines a light on those people."

Eke wrote the novel almost three years ago while living in many of the same B.C. locales that appear in the book.

But he insists that's where the similarities between him and his damaged hero end.

"A lot of people think this guy is me," Eke said. "But it's not. This guy isn't always that nice a person. He has some great thoughts and some terrible thoughts. He does some great things and some terrible things. This guy could be anybody."

Falling Backwards will be released June 2 during a book launch at Guelph's The Book Shelf at 2 p.m.

Born in the Hamilton area, the 33-year-old Eke returned to Ontario in 2001 after spending eight years honing his craft as a journalist and editor in British Columbia.

He maintains a reporter's eye for detail in his fiction writing, offering the story in a fairly linear structure with straightforward language and short, episodic chapters.

But he also takes cues from the beat poets and authors of the 1950s, writing daily to the strains of be-bop jazz which Eke feels helps create a metered rhythm to his dialogue.

"Jack Kerouac is definitely (an influence,)" said Eke. "His writing style is similar to mine in that he didn't plot out, he just let everything flow naturally. The story helps create itself in a way."

And like the beat poets of old, Eke said he puts a lot of weight on real-life experience as the truest form of inspiration.

He chose journalism as a career partly so he could earn a living writing, but also because it allowed him to travel throughout Canada from paper to paper, experience to experience.

Of course, first-hand knowledge can only be taken so far, he said. Eke relied on his journalism skills to convey some of his hero's darker shades, including an addiction to heroin.

"I've never done heroin," Eke said. "But I've known junkies. Vancouver's east end is a brutal, hellish place. There is a place called Pigeon Park where junkies shoot up in broad daylight in front of you. For a guy from Hamilton, that was quite a sight."

For now, the father of three is content to leave the colourful world of Vancouver behind as he continues to write fiction in Guelph.

Maintaining a disciplined, daily work schedule of writing and editing, Eke said writing is a craft that requires constant practice. In the three years since Falling Backwards began its long road to publication, Eke has written two more novels, a book of poetry and started a book of short stories.

That has helped him get through a somewhat frustrating year and series of road bumps -- including computer problems at the publishing house and distribution delays -- that delayed publication of his book.

"I always get asked the cliched question, 'Is Guelph a good place to write?' " Eke said. "The truth is, anywhere is a good place to write."

Former Sachem reporter publishes first novel:
James Eke begins his own journey as novelist


The Grand River Sachem
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
by Neil Dring




For James Eke, the journey from Caledonia High School student to published novelist has been an almost matter-of-fact event most unlike the main character in his first book.

Falling Backwards is a fictional account of a man running away from his existing life looking for a new one. It's a spiritual quest set in Vancouver. The main character, who is ageless and nameless, is mystically drawn east looking for the meaning of life and the root of happiness. On his journey he becomes a vagrant, a heroin addict and finds religion in the strangest of places.

The novel is bleak and unromantic although the reader can easily be drawn into its many short chapters and learn to anticipate its quick turn of events.

Eke, 33, was born in Burlington and grew up in Flamboro. He moved to Caledonia with his father in the early 1980's and lived on Caithness St. near the fairgrounds. While attending Caledonia High School, James worked on the school newspaper and worked as a stringer at the Grand River Sachem.

He credits his English teacher, Mr. Paul, for encouraging him to seek a career as a writer. "I probably wouldn't be a writer today if it hadn't been for Mr. Paul and the Grand River Sachem," he told me Sunday morning as we chatted in the Sachem office. It was his first visit to Caledonia in over 10 years and adolescent memories were flooding back to him.

After high school graduation James Eke studied journalism at Mohawk College and landed a full-time job at the Stoney Creek News. He continued to freelance and was on the scene at the great Hagersville tire fire.

"That's when I became just hooked on journalism," he says. "Here I was in the middle of a world-class event and the excitement was terrific."

James eventually accepted a newspaper job in British Columbia where he spent the next six years of his life before returning to Ontario where he is now night editor at the Guelph Mercury. Along the way, he got married and now has three children.

The Mercury job is ideal for him, he says, for the time being.

As a night editor, he doesn't write for the newspaper, but edits news copy and oversees the lay out of the pages.

Each morning, he writes for himself. "Writing is a discipline," he says. "Every day I force myself to write something."

Working as a journalist in the newspaper in the newspaper industry has allowed James to meet many interesting individuals - some that would be described as "characters". He says there are none from Caledonia in his first novel, but he's thinking of a few locals who might make interesting influences in future works.

He's already written two more books soon to be published along with a book of poetry. No doubt his years in Vancouver learned him the gritty setting for Falling Backwards.

In his spare time, James teaches karate. He is now a practicing Buddhist and his book is sprinkled with Buddhist and Christian philosophies, although there is no hint of pretension.

"It's funny," he told me, "some people think the main character in Falling Backwards is a Buddhist and others think he's Catholic." For James, that's a compliment. The book is meant to "speak" to people without lecturing.

"I hope this book will turn people's lights on. I want them to think about what life is all about. For me, the book is about feeding the fire."

Although James now has a good steady job, a wife and family of his own, he doesn't see himself as totally settled down. He told me that he hopes to someday move his family down East, maybe Halifax, in order to continue his own life's journey. Another log for his own fire.

"It's funny," he said to me wistfully after visiting the Sachem office after such a long absence. "Caledonia is the kind of place you can't get away from quick enough and then you spend the rest of your life thinking about it."

Falling Backwards is available for $19.95 at most major bookstores, including Chapters.