“People do what they want to and don’t do what they don’t want to. That’s all there is to it.” – Johnny Ryba
Young Johnny Ryba’s life is shattered the morning he wakes to the news his dad, his Pops, has been killed in a car accident. Up until that morning Johnny’s little corner of the world in 1950’s Chicago had been perfect, at least as long as Pops was around. Sure his mom drinks a little too much and his younger, special needs sister is a handful at times, but Pops always came through.
Even when he worked extra shifts to make ends meet, Pops always made time in the evenings and on weekends to spend with Johnny and his sister. Once Pops is gone, however, Johnny is left to deal with both his mother’s ever increasing downward spiral into alcoholism as well as the abuse that accompanies it. Through it all Johnny remembers Pops and the things he taught him, the way a “decent man” behaves.
Those memories of what a decent, hard-working man his Pops was carry Johnny through his teenage years and into adulthood, serving as the foundation upon which Johnny builds his life. And just when you think Johnny’s reached the point where he’s comfortable with himself, with life, author John Riffice throws one of the wickedest curves I never saw coming into the mix.
Waiting for Pops, the debut novel from Riffice, is an deftly executed coming of age tale, one that actually follows the protagonist through a bit longer arc than one normally finds in such a story. Instead of stopping once Johnny steps across the threshold into manhood, Riffice has chosen to follow Johnny through well into his own marriage and family…and that wicked curve. By taking a bit more of the longview Riffice allows the reader to get a comprehensive picture of how events in Johnny’s life not only immediately impacted him as a child, but how the ripple effects of those events carried on into his adulthood.
Though the overall premise of the story is not blazing new ground, Riffice brings it to life with his wonderful command of character. Most notably, Riffice is equally comfortable – and skilled – writing from a child’s perspective as he is an adult’s, something that allows for the book’s smooth transition as Johnny grows from an overwhelmed boy into a confident man. Indeed, all of the people in Waiting for Pops are as fleshed out, three-dimensional, and real as you’re likely to encounter. There are no over-the-top stereotypes, no long-suffering, noble heroes, just people with faults and flaws created by the circumstances of their respective burdens in life.
Waiting for Pops is a remarkably vivid tale of how a tremendous loss not only affects one young boy, but how the actions and inaction that flow from such an event can affect a person for the rest of their life.
Waiting for Pops is available from INDI Publishing Group (ISBN: 978-1935636953).