Border Music by Robert Waller

Why this book:  It was selected by my reading group.

My Impressions :  A short and enjoyable read – and one that challenges the reader to look at his/her own life and decisions.  Not a brilliant piece of literature – the characters are stock and arch-typical American characters who live on the bottom end of our middle-class society –living their lives outside of the limelight of the American dream.  There is the seemingly happy-go-lucky cowboy, with an innate wisdom and sense of justice, the stripper with a good heart, who has a daughter, doing what she must to  scratch out a living, and finally, a good, solid, lower-middle class man, a husband  and father who is alienated from his work, his family and his life, who dutifully served everyone but himself – but kept his own dreams alive in a basement room where he indulged in his Walter Mitty-like fantasies.

I felt that the cowboy represented something that I believe all (American) men would like to be – completely independent, unintimidatable, but also sensitive, wise, and good.   He was an example of the “Existential Hero” in American literature – who lives by his own rules, and lives in his own way, in spite of what others may expect or demand to be ‘successful.’  The woman had to take risks and make compromises that most independent women will understand –esp at the end of the book – to take care of herself and her daughter.  The most interesting character was the middle class man who had let himself be cowed most of his life, but had diligently kept the spark in his soul alive, and in the end, broke out of the rut he had been in.

The “Music” in Border Music was an interesting twist.  The characters were constantly referring to tunes throughout the book – Country Western Tunes, Old Rock & Roll tunes, how the lyrics inspired them.  That was a clever and enjoyable piece of the book.  A good part of the book takes place in automobiles, where the music on the radio, or playing on the cassette provides a backdrop and inspiration to the dialogue.

Some in our reading group didn’t like this book –felt the characters were clichéd and the book was too formulaic and shallow.   I however enjoyed it and found that the characters can offer a challenge to any reader, if they’ll accept it: What is important in our life – and are we pursuing it?  Where is the heart?  There is some joy, and some sadness.   A short read, an easy read, a fun read, and if  selected by  a group open to looking at their own lives, one that can provoke a good discussion in a reading group, as it did ours.

About schoultz

CEO of Fifth Factor Leadership - Speaker, consultant, coach. Formerly Director, Master of Science in Global Leadership at University of San Diego; prior to that, 30 years in the Navy as a Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) officer.
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