Chico author takes readers on journey of reflection | The Biblio File
In a series of novels, starting with “Venice Beach” in 2015, Chico writer Emily Gallo (emilygallo.com) has charted the lives of a group of unlikely friends. In her latest, “Bardo” ($12.95 in paperback, independently published; also for Amazon Kindle), the focus is on Luther Banks, a forty-something Black man living in Garberville on guitarist Dutch Bogart’s pot farm.
Others are there, too: “Two of the men, one Black and one White, were quite old, maybe in their late eighties. … The three women all looked like they were in their twenties or thirties.”
Luther falls under suspicion when a body is found nearby. He had spent 20 years in San Quentin on a murder charge; though he had been exonerated through the work of the Innocence Project, the prison sentence was still in the records.
Rather than remain on the farm and face harassment as a Black ex-con, Luther heads for the Bay Area, meeting with his friend Jed Gibbons, “a tall, sinewy African-American” and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, who is now the caretaker of the famous San Francisco Columbarium (where Luther’s mother has a niche).
Jed connects Luther with former best-selling writer Finn McGee (Gallo’s protagonist in “Venice Beach”) in New York. McGee is old, curmudgeonly and sarcastic, the perfect guide for Luther, naive in the ways of modern life (including the stiff drinks favored by McGee).
Luther doesn’t know what to do with his life, and Finn introduces him to the idea of “bardo” — “a Buddhist term,” Finn says, “for those times like what you’re dealing with, when the normal sense of the continuity of your life is interrupted.” (Or, as Dutch would put it later, “The state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. … They’d take away my hippie credentials if I forgot!”)
What better way to navigate Luther’s “in between time” than a road trip? With the help of a newly-purchased ’83 Chrysler LeBaron Town and Country convertible, and the companionship of a stray cat they name Bardo, Luther and Finn head back to California.
A growing sense of calling, and a welcome surprise at the end, bring Luther great joy, and the reader as well.
Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. Send review requests to dbarn[email protected]. Columns archived at https://barnetto.substack.com