Fool that I am, when Toni Harvey was searching for someone to host a RunnersRoundeTable with author Renée Chambliss I volunteered. Too late, I began to wonder what the book could be about. Then I saw that it began with a woman imprisoned in California. Great, “The Jericho Mile” for chicks. She’ll be running around “The Yard,” taunted by fellow cons with a mixture of envy and resentment, striving through weather hot and cold, wet and dry, hoping for “The Big Chance,” to be out on furlough for one shot of glory, one shot at a four lap journey of revelation and redemption.

Let’s face it, running fiction often leads to such a moment. “Once A Runner.” (See also “The Longest Yard.)

The book arrived, a freebie, but one encumbered by the obligation to read it. And it was big. 554-page big. And not large-print and wide-margins. Joycean. It sat on my bookshelf as I put it off, favoring Bar Exam prep. I dropped Renee a line assuring her that I had the book but was delayed by the Bar Exam. She assured me that it was an “easy read.” 550 pages an “easy read.”

I picked it up this past Saturday. I finished it at 12:15 this morning.

My dilemma. How to review a book that has a plot device without mentioning said plot device. I was compelled to read the book with no idea of what was to come, and this, I think, enhanced the experience. So I’m not going to reveal the plot device.

Renée Chambliss

Instead I’ll try to characterize the book in the short-hand of the blurb-writer. We have our narrator, twenty-five year old, 5′ 2″ Lindsay Paulson who is in the California Women’s Correctional Facility, CWCF, doing a ten-year stretch for drug-running. She’s five years in and spends much of her time in a room with five other inmates. She runs on the treadmill now and then, to the amazement of her roommates.

This treadmill reference is in the second paragraph. There won’t be another running reference for some 81 pages and then another 243 pages pass before we get another. Our heroine’s running background will prove useful in, even integral to, our story, but it is not patronizing. It simply proves to be a useful skill. Who knew?

As a first-person narrative, we can only get glimpses of other characters, and we get enough about the major ones to feel we know them but would like to know them — not to have a cup of coffee with them but to understand them — a bit more. Which is part of what makes this a good read. What else will we learn?

The plot itself is another part. Very little was predictable. While there are a lot of moving parts, the ball is never dropped.

The final part is the writing itself. The images are remarkable in their detail.

    The crown of the hill was bald, covered only by an ankle-high scrubby sagebrush and the sycamores cascaded down on all sides like a fuzzy green skirt. The lake spread around us in a deep, smoky blue arc; its small wavelets simmering on the surface, glinting with golden flashes in the sun. Shining between the walls of the canyon, the swath of sky overhead was a brighter blue, almost turquoise, and a series of huge, white fluffy clouds glided regally across it like a procession of billowy yachts. The willows and rushes lining the shore of the lake were bottle green, as bright as if they’d been dipped in paint ten minutes before. But all that vividness paled in comparison to the brilliant red of the rock which overshadowed it all, providing the backdrop for the green of the bushes and trees, coating the rocky shore of the lake and the surface of each of the three islands in the lake’s center, then dominating and overwhelming everything in the walls of the gorge, which stretched up hundreds of feet toward the sky.

The book’s images are fantastically drawn.

So we have good characters, a good plot, and good writing. And a fast read indeed.

You needn’t take my word for it. Like a good running store, Chambliss allows you to take the first three chapters out for a test run. Hell, she’s even putting the whole thing up as an audio file.

So, there we have it. Chambliss will be on RunnersRoundTable with Toni and me on April 7.

Getting The Book

“Dreaming of Deliverance” is available for tastings. The first three chapters are on-line.

The entire novel is being put into audio files for downloading.

That’s not to say that conventional can’t be enjoyable if well-executed. I’ve not seen it since it was on TV some thirty years ago, when running shorts were shorter and hair styles were longer, but for those yearning for a more conventional tale, these from the classic prison runner (that’s Peter Strauss), “The Jericho Mile“:

And the Man having decided he wasn’t good enough (he was fast enough) to go the the trials, he does it himself: