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Book Review: Son of Soothsayer

Son of Soothsayer. Simon A. Smith. New Meridian, 2018, Trade Paperback, 497 pages.

Reviewed by Terrell Isselhard.

Clayton Blaine’s mother is famous and rich. She has found a shortcut to success—the secret code to the universe—and he was right there alongside her when it happened. The problem is that her secret, or rather, her shortcut, isn’t going to cut it because as Clayton and his family discover, there are no shortcuts to happiness and success; things are a bit more complex. Funny, touching, insightful, and ultimately wise, Simon A. Smith’s Son of Soothsayeris a novel that delights.

Smith’s novel is a response to the wildly successful self-help book, The Secret. Smith imagines the son of that author has written a book responding to the claims made in The Secret (The Shortcutin Smith’s novel). Roberta Blaine, Clayton’s mother, believes that through the sheer power of thought, one can project himself into success and happiness. When she writes a book on this subject, there’s no shortage of folks who are willing to buy into the idea. 

The novel is written from Clayton’s perspective and broken into sections that parody the structure of the original, The Secret. Each section is titled “The Shortcut to...”. This structure allows the book to build on themes rather than a clearly defined linear narrative. Smith jumps in time, showing snapshots of Clayton’s adolescence. He opens with some fun family squabbles, establishing a wonderful cast of characters that breathe life into a book whose premise could easily overshadow its characters. Thanks to Smith’s humor and the wonderfully fleshed out world of the story, this is as much a story about a family as it is a book with a clear statement to make. At a certain point, any sense that this novel is a response to another book becomes secondary to the story Smith is telling.

Another wonderful aspect of Son of Soothsayeris the book’s strong sense of place. Smith explores Chicago as a city of neighborhoods and chooses hidden nooks and crannies to settle his characters. The story opens in the north-side neighborhood of Albany Park where Clayton’s mother, Roberta, is first finding her voice as the future author of a bestselling self-help book. The story takes a journey through many Chicago neighborhoods, all the way to Jackson Park on the Southside. Just as Smith offers a wonderfully varied view of Chicago, he also offers a varied view of humanity. Far too many books set in cities brimming with many cultures and races end up written in a vacuum. Clayton’s life is diffuse with the diversity of the city he lives in, and this enriches the novel, adding a reliable world to the perspective Smith is providing. None of these relationships are perfect; in fact, they’re all flawed. 

I recommended this book for anyone interested in laughing out loud while engaging with a challenging and thought-provoking story. If you’re a huge fan of The Secret,this might not be the book for you, but if you love literature rich in character, humor, and intelligence, then Son of Soothsayeris a book you will enjoy. Lastly, this is not a novel for the faint of heart; people die and hearts are broken. Clayton Blaine may be the son of a self-help guru, but he’s a long way from having it all figured out, which is what makes this book so delightful to read.


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