My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace is a lengthy, whimsical circular definition of the life of the narrator who is constantly referred to as the old man upstairs. It is a story of the old man upstairs, a semi-paralyzed, broken man living in a secret apartment above his bar called My Old Kentucky Home, who shares the journey of how he has found redemption with the purpose of his own life by observing others below him finding theirs. It is also a story that is the grand culmination of a variety of ideas, personal creative notes, and literary concepts I was exposed to and inspired by during the course of my tenure in the School of Letters. Whether it was the fictional biographical narrative style of Machado de Assis’ The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas in Forms of Fiction, the camaraderie and adventurous Arthurian motifs in The Romance of Arthur, the importance of and usage of time in Workshop in Fiction Writing, or the general topic of literary evaluation and breaking down what makes a story a good one in The Contemporary Short Story, this book pays homage to all of that and is a collage of the best that I’ve read, written, learned, and experienced at Sewanee.
The narration moves between three periods of time. First, the narrator tells the entire story directly to the reader in real time, over the course of a single afternoon visit. The reader has been invited into the narrator’s secret world, literally in his living space and figuratively in his world of characters and personal history, to which nobody has previously had access. Second, the narrator begins the first part of every chapter by recounting his entire life’s journey, all the way from before birth to very personal present-day circumstances. From his birth parents, adoptive dad, childhood friends, higher education, road trips, finding love, finding family, losing love and family in a horrific tragedy, and then building himself back up with the help of friends, the old man upstairs doesn’t leave out many of the highlights and lowlights in between. Third, the second half of each chapter is the narrator sharing short stories about his favorite employees and patrons celebrating Kentucky-themed holidays, because of the bar namesake, even though every bar scene takes place in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Through the variety of Kentucky festivities, which include UK Basketball, March Madness, and The Kentucky Derby to name a few, the old man upstairs weaves specific tales of certain characters revealing personal stories and lessons that systematically embody how, over the course of the most recent year that has passed, he has experienced both personal growth and closure with his deepest mistakes and triumphs.
As Leo Tolstoy once said, “All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” Not stating this novel is great literature as of yet, My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace provides both. Within the overall conversation shared between the narrator and the reader, each chapter serves as a symbolic reflection of the narrator sharing pieces of going on an epic journey and also how a stranger named Charlie came to town and helped change the old man upstairs and everyone around him into better versions of themselves. And whether it is the narrator, Charlie, any of the rest from a long list of characters, or the reader, My Old Kentucky Home: A Maze in Grace explores the broken worlds found in each person and place involved and shows a path to discover wholeness again by the end.