The Vanishing Point (out now)


Michael Backus interview, Southwest Writers, 2-22-2022

Michael Backus Interview with HJ Book Blog, November 2021

The Vanishing Point from Cactus Moon Publications is now for sale here. 

Early Customer Review:

The thing that struck me first was the voice, at once lyrical and conversational, darkly
funny and moving. Michael Backus’ Henry is in the great tradition of American Romantic heroes, brilliant outsiders too aware to play in the system, men sensitive enough to be tormented by their own brutality. Henry is formed by a primal loss, his twin, and those sections of the book are so beautifully written and heartbreaking, they create the central emotional vortex of the narrative, and Henry’s dissolute life unwinds to the point where he must take action to redeem himself. So, to the road and the quest to find his abandoned daughter, a journey through layers of meaning and memory and landscape. The resolution is handled so deftly (no spoilers!), the resonances stay with you in a pleasant haunting.

The Vanishing Point  has a unique voice I’ve never encountered in literature before; it’s conversational, Midwestern, and off-handedly masterful at once. A painful, sometimes heartbreaking, exploration of “what went wrong, how did things get this way” – a middle-aged rumination on life in the tradition of Denis Johnson or Jim Harrison, told as the
sometimes outrageously picaresque tale of a boy-man stumbling towards some measure
of redemption. It’s a road trip, it’s a Midwestern childhood revisited with delicate
attention to the details children find important, and subtly, a novel about identity and
how we work it out. Backus goes from matter-of-fact to lyrical in the most natural way in this real gem of a novel.

About The Vanishing Point:

How did he — Henry Dolan — get here? Lost in the mountains east of
Santa Fe with the 10 year old daughter he met only two weeks before
(OK, not literally “met” – he raised her till she was two, but she has no
memory of it and he sometimes wonders if it actually happened), the
shadow line already above their heads, stars popping in a finely grained
sky, the meadow they’re standing in a hopeless murk? But it’s more
than that. He’s had a thought and it doesn’t matter that it’s completely
ridiculous, because you can’t unthink a thought and suddenly everything
she does, everything Cadence does, starts seeming like a clue. Henry’s
unwanted thought is this: that somehow, his daughter shares some
part of Sammy, dead 20 years before she was born, his twin brother
Sammy, that there’s something of him in her. He sees things in her, not
just specific behaviors and seeming shared memories (they both knew
about the thing with the bats, didn’t they?), but a feeling that goes
beyond words, beyond understanding. She seems to feel it too, seems to
understand that something extraordinary is happening, something more
than a long-gone father re-connecting with an abandoned child.

When 10 year old Henry “Sonny” Dolan’s identical twin brother Sammy
died in a freak accident, the remaining family – mother and father
(Franny and The Dude), well-meaning but often anxious and confused
around their inscrutable sons whose connection to each other seemed
impenetrable and absolute – splintered, sending them to their respective
corners to grieve. Through years of mourning, Sonny decided he
believed in reincarnation and was sure Sammy would be re-born
sometime, somewhere and as long as he thought this way, he’d
survive until Sammy reappeared. Until then, he simply wouldn’t think
about Sammy and he’d never talk about him. As if he’d never existed.

When the book begins, 40 year old Henry is living on the East Coast and
hasn’t thought much about his long-dead brother in decades. Through
a series of circumstances so fortuitous  he begins to suspect “I’ve
stepped into a far more powerful and complicated psychic current than
I could ever have imagined…,” he ends up in the one place he was sure
he never wanted to go again — Santa Fe, New Mexico — the town he fled
in existential horror eight years ago after his wife abandoned everything
and everyone she knew. Once there, in fits and starts, he begins the
thorny process of owning up to his own abandonment of his child years
before, a child who may or may not be linked to a past he’d long given up

The Vanishing Point isn’t only about how people literally vanish, it’s also about the
ways people opt out of their own lives, move away from engagement,
from emotional attachment, from complication and distress and pain and
how difficult it is to even understand that this might be a problem. It’s
about how the context of a person’s life can be lost and how difficult and
painful it is to re-discover.

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