The pseudonymous J. Dixon Neuman is a U.S. Navy veteran who was born and raised in the Allegany Mountains and served in the Vietnam War with Swift Boats and a Navy Support Activity. The events his novel, Ride a Twisted Mind Home (Xlibris, 414 pp. $34.99, hardcover; $23.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), he tells us, are ripped from the pages of his life.
The main character, Jake Brewer, is modeled on the author. He is of Christian faith, which helped him to survive two brutal tours of duty in the Vietnam War. Early in the story, his marriage is rocky, but gradually gathers strength. Jake battles with PTSD and recovers enough to complete his military career.
The other primary protagonist is a member of the Slater Family, a group of primarily career criminals who learn stern lessons about life in prison. The Slaters are “a family of vengeful troublemakers. These longtime residents of Sterling County are headed to war.” And that is where they end up. Prison, we find out, is not be the best preparation for military service.
The writing tends to be a bit overemotional. Early in the novel—actually, in the second sentence—Newman writes: “Gravity sucks them into a black hole of disastrous consequences.” That is hard to imagine. But we don’t have to imagine it, as the next few pages describe said black hole in great detail.
There are no Vietnam War battle scenes in the book. The war is mentioned, but only occasionally. For example: there is “a warped half-crazed Vietnam vet with a chip on his shoulder,” and Dustoff pilots are referred to in passing. This novel does include many mentions of “assault, rapes, arson, stalking and ongoing destruction,” but only in a peacetime environment. PTSD and trips to the VA are also mentioned in passing.
Many disgusting references are in this novel, enough for it to be characterized as more than occasionally disgusting in tone. I warn readers that this novel is not for the faint of heart—or the easily revolted.
I found myself resenting having to read this book for review. Rarely do I feel that strongly negative about a review novel—almost never, in fact.
The excessively vernacular writing in this book also made it a struggle to read. I would not describe myself as faint of heart, but perhaps in my old age I am becoming more easily offended when confronted with descriptions of individuals whose bodies and clothes stink or are rotting off their bodies.
When I worked decades ago as a welfare worker, I encountered such people from time to time and was able to deal with them with compassion, but this novel’s characters tested my patience—and my compassion.