Butler English Professor Dan Barden has an extraordinary offer for any book club that reads his new novel, The Next Right Thing: If you want him to attend your group’s meeting to talk about his work, he’ll be there.
“I will do everything I can to make it work, particularly over the summer,” said Barden, who can be reached at email@example.com. “If I can’t make it work, if geography, finances or my schedule doesn’t allow, I’d be happy to Skype, talk to them on the phone, whatever they want.”
The Next Right Thing ($26, Random House) tells the story of Randy Chalmers, an ex-police officer who investigates the mysterious death of his best friend, lawyer and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Terry Elias. Barden calls it “a hybrid of a crime novel and a thoughtful, character-driven book about a community of men.”
What Barden was able to get across in The Next Right Thing, he said, is the depth and authenticity of characters who get sober through AA. Barden knows something about this; he hasn’t had a drink in 26 years.
“I haven’t seen a lot of great books about recovery from alcoholism,” he said. “There are lots of great books about drunks, but not about recovery.”
And in mining that subject matter, “I think I’ve found a story and a group of characters in which I can talk about spiritual experiences and still use profanity as much as I want,” he said with a smile.
The book has received a number of rave reviews. Jennifer Egan, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, said: “Everything you could hope for from a novel: The Next Right Thing is suspenseful, hilarious, angry—above all, wildly original. I only wish I’d written it myself.”
Amanda Shubert, writing for full-stop.net, described The Next Right Thing as “a superbly paced and entertaining mystery” and Barden as “a terrific comic writer.”
Barden, who’s taught at Butler since 2000, said he drafted The Next Right Thing numerous times over five years. But he knew he was on the right track because “every time I read the last pages, I cry. It still moves me that Randy feels this way about his friends and that he has this complicated but heartfelt understanding of God.”
“I love this book,” Barden added. “I believe in this book. I would love to spend the summer traveling to book groups. I would do that happily.”