By Jack Rubinger
Mysteries, comedy and atmospheric Irish golf abound in this stand-alone novel that also continues the stories of brothers Phillip and Spencer Elliot first explored in the novel Mr. Wizard, written by Jeff Wallach, who has been a resident of Portland for 25 years.
“I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t quite finished with Phillip and Spencer Elliot and their search for meaning and—in this book—their desire to find their true homes,” Wallach said.
The action takes place in settings ranging from 1950s Brooklyn to New York’s Catskill Mountains, to present day Portland and the fictitious Irish golf town of Ballydraiocht.
Mixing touches of movies like Dirty Dancing, television series like Outlander and books by J.D. Salinger, Everyone Here is From Somewhere Else is at times funny, nostalgic, sad and a bit eerie.
Wallach, who has worked as a columnist covering golf, fitness, travel, financial and consumer matters, has a light touch in this book which moves quickly from locations to time frames to perspectives, as members of a family trace their roots, their parents and influences who shape who they are
“I believe that the power of place is an important factor in determining who you are in life,” said Wallach, whose own mother shocked him by revealing that he had a Scottish great grandfather. That led Wallach to get a DNA test.
In the book, which is somewhat autobiographical, he decided to make the key ancestral characters Irish because “they’re more entertaining and funnier.”
This novel also sheds light on how families fracture when people die. How we react to death varies from shock to denial to acceptance.
There’s also a bit of Portland in Everyone Here is From Somewhere Else, which describes fine dining experiences in the Hawthorne neighborhood, explorations of spooky cemeteries and the world of real estate and commercial development.
One of the characters is trying to learn the history of a residential eight-plex building in the Buckman neighborhood and turns up some fun and helpful info. The entire novel was written in a duplex just off Hawthorne.
Some of the Portland scenes even felt nostalgic for Portland’s pre-pandemic period when business was booming and people were getting out and about. While Everyone Here Is From Somewhere Else was started before the pandemic, the characters in the book show pride for their city. Things have obviously changed in Portland since the pandemic.
“I’m sympathetic to the unhoused,” said Wallach. “But at the same time, I don’t want to see our neighborhoods destroyed.”
Everyone Here is From Somewhere Else was published by Open Books, an independent multi-genre publisher supporting community growth through independent bookstores and libraries. Open Books publishes literary, contemporary and historical fiction; timely, entertaining and educational nonfiction; and subject-specific narrative poetry. Wallach explained that the traditional publishing route used to include an advance for authors and publishers would print 3,000-5,000 copies of a book, which readers could purchase in bookstores.
The big catch was that if the bookstores didn’t sell enough copies of the book, the publisher had to pay to ship the books both to and from the bookstore. Small presses, like Open Books, can’t afford to deal with bookstores this way, so Wallach sells the books through his publisher, via Amazon, and on his own website, jeffwallach.com.
“If you’re not a blockbuster author, it’s an extremely difficult world to break into,” said Wallach. “Publishing has become a rough contact sport and is particularly difficult for fiction writers not named Stephen King. These days we not only have to write the books, but also market and promote them.”
Wallach, who has taught writing at a variety of schools, workshops and writers’ conferences, holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College and a Master’s Degree in Fiction Writing from Brown University.
He has plans to revisit the Elliot brothers in a future book. For now, he’s working on a project with different characters and different subject matter.
“I have a sense of what’s next for the brothers, but right now I’m taking a slight detour,” he explained.
Wallach clearly enjoys his characters, their arguments and their celebrations. The book is a fun read and kept this reader on his toes with twists, turns and surprises.
Photo: author Jeff Wallach