During my early college years, it was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. The review or reputation of the book didn't matter, if Vonnegut wrote it, I bought and read the book. A little later in life it was John le Carré. Sometime after that Graham Greene. Eventually it was Paul Theroux's travel books (but not his fiction) and an intense burst of Bill Bryson's travel books (hell, I even read his book on the English language, The Mother Tongue). [yes, I know -- all white men. deal with it.] For me, these authors were the literary equivalent of the old saying about sex: "When it's good, it's great and when it's bad, it's still pretty good."
And so it is with my friend, Kevin Cunningham's writing. Rather appropriately we met when we worked together in a bookstore. Over the, I don't know, more than 15, less than 20 years we've known each other, I've read Kevin's self-published 'zines, his blogs, and the travel writing he did for Ms. Stim in those glorious days when she edited a local travel magazine. I've read a few of his near (maybe more than) 30 non-fiction books he's written for middle or high school libraries, on topics such as: the history of influenza, a bio of Stalin and a publisher-requested book on everyone's favorite minority, Canadian-Americans.
Kevin doesn't impose on his friends to read drafts. It's damn difficult to get him to send a draft even if you beg for it. Which is why I felt, and still feel, fortunate when he let me read the full draft of a science fiction manuscript before he turned it over to his (now ex-) agent, who really didn't grasp what she was reading. I know that you only have my word on this: that manuscript was really, really good. Action, humor, character development, social commentary, imagination -- everything you expect in first-rate SF.
The one absolute about Kevin as a wordsmith is if, within the context of a story, he can reference "malaria," "tornadoes," and "hockey" in one sentence, he'll die a happy writer.
A small university press got smart. Kevin's first published novel, The Constellations will be released November 15th. I haven't read a word of it. However, others have:
"Cunningham's tenderness and terse prose style announce the arrival of an assured and perceptive literary voice." --Booklist
"In this debut novel, Cunningham writes with confidence, employing a spare, straightforward style that conveys the story with fluid minimalism. The author's talent for quiet, meditative character studies is on full display in this slim slice of smalltown life." --Publishers Weekly
But I already knew that. I've been reading my friend for years.
If you'd like a taste of Kevin's blogging style, shift your eyes to the left. You'll see "Heavy Early" under My Links.
More importantly, if you clicked through the link above, you probably noticed that Amazon is selling The Constellations at a $6.00 discount from the listed $16 and change price. Makes a great holiday gift for the person who has everything. Cause obviously that person doesn't have this book yet.