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After his ambulance is T-boned and sent careening down an embankment, medic Jay Barlow faces a life without the use of his legs and a depression that cannot be consoled by his loving wife of 26 years and supportive adult children. But when an opportunity to become a docent at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is presented to him, Jay begins to see a way out of his despair as he gives tours from his wheelchair and immerses himself in the impressive collection of artifacts and the stories of the military veterans who volunteer there. He eventually finds himself in a world where he can escape his physical limitations and become a part of history. Jay’s experiences become increasingly fantastic to the point where his wife Debbie, a registered nurse, becomes concerned that they are a product of PTSD.
Fiction readers will find Rollover's story of a newly disabled medic's revised purpose in life to be compelling. It embraces not only the recovery process of a man who loses use of his legs in an accident, but his challenges facing the PTSD which emerges when he seemingly is on the road to a newly purposeful life (becoming a docent at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum). More so than most stories about disability and recovery, Rollover embraces a broader spectrum of concerns in the process. It highlights and emphasizes that physical recovery and renewed purposes aren't just the only challenges facing those whose lives are traumatized and vastly changed. This (and the fact that Jay Barlow isn't alienated from but is helped by a loving wife and adult children) sets his story apart from others...but readers receive an added surprise when Jay links the museum's holdings to an experience he'd had in the distant past. Was his encounter a timeslip event, a real connection, or fantasy? Jay explores all these possibilities as he becomes more intensely involved in the history of 1918: "Were my experiences real or were they just happening in my head? I'd asked that question of myself a thousand times, and I kept coming back to the same thing—it felt real. I'd asked Billy the question, and he seemed to think that it didn't matter. “Real or not, you’ve found a place to heal.” That was all that he had said to me." The experiences were new to him, yet all too real...but his wife thinks it's part of the trauma he suffered. Therapist Frank Turnbull also tries to help him: “It means that we are all predisposed to view the world the way that we do. Our worldview is shaped by our experiences, or lack thereof. It’s shaped by our likes and dislikes—what we’re interested in and what we’re not. It’s influenced by the people we come in contact with. And then, of course, there’s the factor of people seeing what they want to see.” “You’re saying that this is all in my head?” “I can’t make that decision. That’s for you to determine. All that I can do is to try to help you with your perspective. Because perspective…” “Is everything. Yeah, yeah, I get it. It’s up to me to decide if I’m crazy or not.”
Is Jay suffering from the delusion that he's been transporting himself to World War I and dogfighting in a vintage aircraft from the era? Or is this a key to a full recovery and a more meaningful life and understanding of past and present traumas? Readers who choose Rollover will find the story's embrace of PTSD, history, recovery processes, and challenging new realities is thought-provoking and engrossing. It's impossible to tell what road Jay and his family will take during this long process, and there are many unexpected twists to the tale (including a surprise conclusion) that provide delightful moments of inspection. Will his reawakening enable him to leave the past behind? Can his relationship with Debbie also be revitalized during his process of rediscovery? Jay asks many of the questions those recovering from traumatic injury face on a daily basis. His experiences, while delving into the fantastic, embrace the entirety of this process in a satisfying manner that holds compelling lessons, while entertaining and educating readers about World War I. The multifaceted approach of this historical, psychological fiction story will attract those who seek stories that are unpredictable and delightfully involving on different levels. Fans of traditional timeslip sagas will be especially intrigued and delighted by the juxtaposition of reality and possibility that this story embraces.
Midwest Book Review
Naomi Lynn Barnes interviews John Alvah Barnes Jr about his novel Rollover
NLB: What inspired you to write Rollover?
JAB: I'd been using a wheelchair for a couple of years when I started thinking about the challenges and what I might write about them. It wasn't until I became a docent at the National Air and Space Museum and started giving tours from my chair that I thought about combining the two things. The Museum helped get me back on my feet, so to speak.
NLB: How much does Jay's struggle with his disability reflect on your own experience?
JAB: Jay's struggles reflect heavily on my own experiences, though he suffered from a spinal cord injury from an accident, while my disabilities are hereditary. His injury was immediate, while my own situation progressed over time. It wasn't too hard for me to imagine how it would feel if it happened all at once though.
NLB: Your novel raises awareness of the obstacles faced by people who are confined to wheelchairs. Why did you feel this was necessary to include in the novel?
JAB: You answered part of the question when you mentioned raising awareness. I included many things that I've actually experienced because I wanted people to think about how the disabled person feels. There have been times when I've been using my chair that I've felt invisible. There have been other times when people have been friendly and helpful. I'd like for people to pause a moment when they see a disabled person and strive for the latter.
NLB: Why 1918?
JAB: As I say in the credits, when I was eleven or twelve years old my father handed me a copy of Eddie Rickenbacker's 1967 autobiography. Rickenbacker was a fascinating character. He raced at, and eventually owned, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After the war he founded Eastern Airlines. And during WWI he became the preeminent Ace, shooting down 26 confirmed enemy planes. I was enthralled, and it led to my interest in vintage planes and early flight.
NLB: Are any of the adventures Jay experiences in 1918 based on true events?
JAB: Many of them. I spent a lot of time at the museum becoming a docent and learning new things about flight and pilots that I hadn't known. Besides my earlier reading, I did a lot of research for the book, and many events and pilots depicted are based on actual history.
NLB: You're not a pilot. How were you able to describe piloting old planes?
JAB: Many of my friends at the museum were pilots who liked to regale me with their exploits. In the credits I mention Colonel Melvin F. Brown. Colonel Brown was a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, and he became a fighter pilot instructor. He also became a good friend who loved to tell me about his experiences, and we did many museum tours together. As for flying time, I had a good simulator that I spent many hours with learning to "fly" WWI aircraft. Eventually I even learned to land them without crashing. The rest was all imagination.
NLB: Without giving away the surprise ending, what are your views on the possibility of time travel?
JAB: According to my younger son, the physicist, time travel is impossible. I bow to his informed wisdom, but I will tell you it was a lot of fun to think about.