A thriller rooted in an enduring college friendship tackles complex themes

Owritten by Woodger G. Faugas


When I was first approached and asked to write this book review, I didn’t know if I would, or even what I would say. Along with coping with a hectic schedule, I had some doubts about whether I was the best person to present Obele’s nuanced work to his audience. On the one hand, the author of the book takes many creative liberties, complicating any attempt to accurately portray the strengths and shortcomings of his narrative, and thus allowing only a propaedeutic narratological interpretation to be offered. And for two, despite its presentation in prose form, and by constituting a much less extensive display of Western literary tradition, the book reminds me of Faust, Goethe’s sui generis story, and therefore transgressive. By constituting a multi-part work accentuating the lived experiences of a flawed, yet retrievable antihero, this literary artifact makes various demands on its readers.

The novel, “The Orientation of Dylan Woodger,” written by Boston-based author and activist CE Obele, was released earlier this spring. An alumnus of Hamilton College, an upstate New York liberal arts college enduringly listed as one of the “Little Ivies,” Obele crafted the book from various fictions of his experiences as a student in Hamilton, where he and I first met.

Faugas and Obele in their college library. Faugas Woodland

At the time, Obele was a well-spoken, erudite young man who grew up in downtown Boston and went on to get what seemed to me, and was in fact, a top-notch high school education.

Before Hamilton, and despite daunting odds, Obele had graduated from the predominantly white Concord-Carlisle High School. His family had helped him gain admission to the school under a well-known non-compulsory school desegregation program called METCO.

Unlike Obele, I was an intellectually curious child who spoke English with a Haitian Creole accent. Just before Hamilton, I had graduated from an underfunded and now defunct inner city high school. And this center of learning emerged as part of an abandoned Gates Foundation school reform experiment aimed at educating science-interested students from marginalized urban communities.

Moreover, while Obele’s upbringing in New England had familiarized him well with the rigors of winter, I found it difficult to adapt to winter life on “the Hill”, the toponym Hamilton familiar. Having spent most of my Caribbean childhood enjoying the sun and coconut water by the seaside of “the pearl of the Antilles”, Haiti, I was much less used to the frigidity of the north of the state. from New York.

In the end, despite our differences, Obele and I found common ground. For example, while Obele’s father had immigrated to the United States from Nigeria in the 1960s, I had moved to the United States from Haiti shortly after 9/11. Also, in the same way that METCO had helped pave the way for Obele to study in Hamilton, the Posse Foundation had enabled me to enroll in Hamilton. Having immigrated from Haiti as an unaccompanied youth, I had little hope of going to college until I found Posse, a national non-profit organization identifying learners with leadership potential. demonstrable and exceptional.

Shortly after Obele and I first met, we went from discussing the nutty, flowery aroma of our grandmothers’ morning coffee to exploring and debating theology. systematics and world history, among a multitude of subjects. Our attendance at Hamilton, an institution with an open curriculum, had not only whetted our divergent intellectual appetites, but also fed them. By achieving this bold and consequential educational goal, it not only gave us the freedom to choose courses aligned with our epistemic interests, but it also engaged us in multidisciplinary and rigorous study across the liberal arts.

The first story of a black activist, a mafia thriller, explores the breach of trust, as well as other nuanced themes

An artistic interpretation of Faugas and Obele engaging in an exchange grounded in literature, discussing ideas chosen from the many works that have shaped their lives and academic experiences. Faugas Woodland

With the above relationship informing my connection to Obele’s book, it is therefore not surprising that Obele chose me as the eponym of his tripartite work.

Since graduating from Hamilton, our friendship has survived, although our lives have traveled different paths. While Obele pursued a lofty career as a social reformer, I relied on the advice of mentors, like Hamilton College professors Nigel Westmaas and Peter Cannavò, to follow the much more traveled path of working in law and now in medicine. .

And since we had stayed in touch over the years, I took advantage of the lull that Obele experienced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to strongly encourage him to write his first novel.

By framing his fictional narrative, Obele articulates the book’s plot to the story of protagonist Dylan J. Woodger.

The book begins with Dylan’s journey to enroll in Hamilton College. With the novel’s setting encompassing the present, its story arc begins with a sharing of details regarding the precious time Dylan is spending with his mother, as she drives him to his first day of freshman orientation.

And on their trip, Dylan and his mom discuss college orientation and the importance of bonding with other students throughout the orientation event, as well as the ins and outs of college life. .

Moving the story forward, shortly after arriving in Hamilton, Dylan falls asleep and wakes up, some three years later, to a dead end – figuratively and literally.

Shot in the shoulder and facing interrogation by the Italian mafia, Dylan finds himself tied up in the woods.

The situation soon worsens.

Members of the Italian mob in upstate New York then catch Dylan and demand the three million dollars they believe he hid from them. Hearing and processing these questions leaves Dylan’s mind racing as he racks his brains for details about money and the last three forgotten years of his life.

And in Dylan’s amnesia lies the infamous snag – fueling the procession to the novel’s climax.

In a desperate attempt to put the mob at ease, Dylan responds by insisting he doesn’t have mob money.

Long before Bedlam takes place, in the first-person narration as well as the opening of the novel, Dylan raises multiple fundamental questions. “Who am I?” and “Where am I?”

Also at the forefront of Dylan’s mind were the questions “What time is it?” and “Why am I here?” in the struggle to figure out how to get out of his Daedalian enigma and facing intense duress, as he is being sued for something he has no memory of.

From these questions emerges the launching pad of the book, out of a total of nineteen chapters.

Incidentally, and despite the attendant obviousness, it should be noted, as the narrative continues, that the similarity of names signals the point at which any comparison between me and that other Woodger, namely Dylan, can be drawn.

Throughout its more than 400 pages, the book explores various challenging themes, repeatedly placing barriers in front of its characters. Obele has conceptualized and portrayed bothersome and sophisticated characters that he loves to push to contrasting human limits by creating a difficult denouement.

In terms of highlights, various plot points in this book felt raw and well thought out. As indicated in the inclusion of an acknowledgment in the novel, Obele appears to have done the research and thought, as well as drawn on the planning and imagination necessary, to conjure up, create, and mix plot elements that reveal a detailed and stimulating book.

However, these successes are juxtaposed with the distinctive limitations of the book. Notably, some aspects of the book’s plot seem predictable or worn enough to cause some boredom, especially when paired with plot points set in the stream of consciousness.

However, to counteract this boredom, certain plot developments and devices keep the story moving. For example, a disappointing beginning emerges as Dylan reflects on and interprets his past, as part of the novel’s diegesis. And as the book progresses, that flaw dissipates, thanks to Dylan’s success in making interpretative sense of his past.

Also, some parts of the book seem impractical. For example, instead of killing Dylan because of the aforementioned missing millions, a mob boss surprisingly lets the young man go.

Likewise, other sections of the book are macabre and appalling, and as such, reader discretion is advised.

By exercising its rights to creative freedom and acting within its artistic license, Obele agrees to subject many of its characters and readers to discomfort and indecisiveness. In this vein and in search of mitigation, Obele issues a triggering warning at the start of the work, describing sexual violence. Additionally, as a consolation, Obele also pledged a significant portion of the book’s proceeds to donations to an organization fighting sexual violence.

The first story of a black activist, a mafia thriller, explores the breach of trust, as well as other nuanced themes

Faugas and Obele, with Obele holding Obele’s book. Faugas Woodland

In closing, although this novel is long, it deserves a long reading and analysis. Mainly, because of its imaginative components, it’s a respectable first novel. More importantly, its temporality makes it perhaps significant ⁠ – being the by-product of an enduring college friendship between two black men and having been conceptualized during a daunting historical period. As of this writing, calling for societal reflection and socio-economic reform key to outcomes is the syndemic effect of anti-Black and other racial inequalities, compounded by the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 on black Americans and other marginalized communities.

By Woodger G. Faugas


THE ORIENTATION OF DYLAN WOODGER, by CE Obele | 417 pages | Publications of the Maison Fischer | $24.99

Irene B. Bowles