Red Dale Ray: A Sober Rebrand by Deb Cunningham
By Mary H. Mcfarland
Ray Bowler wants to downsize, sell Hilda’s, his failing bar, and hit the road in his Red Dale Ray camper trailer. Ray’s only problem, however, isn’t negotiating his camper’s tiny shower or keeping it jacked up in the mud when the rains hit.
Trouble begins when a city slicker named Bonnie walks in looking to slick Ray out of Hilda’s. After an evening of hard drinking, Bonnie falls drunk into her bar peanuts. From there, Ray’s life goes downhill. From first sentence onward, Deb’s wonderfully wry, laid-back humor in Red Dale Ray is delivered mostly through Ray Bowler’s point-of-view.
If you like feisty, quirky characters and a book-length dollop of easy-going and entertaining humor, you’ll love Red Dale Ray. Not only does Deb handle her humor well, but she also plans exciting twists and surprises for readers, as the tension over whether or not Ray is going to sell his bar escalates. Within the small world of Menta and the nearby campground, where all the cast of Red Dale Ray reside, author Deb Cunningham presents all the elements of well-crafted humor—and more.
Deb’s plotting drives us to anticipate Ray’s next decision. Wouldn’t you know, his desire to simplify his life turns out to be the road less traveled. Deb explores her theme, which is the escapist goal of many I-don’t-give-a-moose-pie, aging boomers seeking inner peace through their outward journey. However, we discover, interestingly, that Deb’s Red Dale Ray is more than a simple tale of Ray’s desire to sell his bar and hit the road. It’s a witty allegory of Ray’s, and thus everyman’s, obstacle-driven flight into the depths of alcoholism—and the path to escape.
Is there a hero in Red Dale Ray? You bet your Eddie Bauer sleeping bag, there is. Ray is beset not only by his own demons, but also by forces outside his control, and isn’t that, after all, part of the challenge of finding inner peace? He’s dealing with a life trashed by alcohol, divorce, a culture that’s bypassed him, and by the decline of Hilda’s due to the rise of nearby micro-breweries. So, essentially, he’s losing everything: wife, bar, income, self-respect.
Yet Ray steps up. He’s real, like courageous people we meet every day. In the case of his estranged wife, who colludes with Patty the bartender to lure more business to Hilda’s (wait ‘til you find out how!), we’d like to avoid Ray’s ex, yet we’re drawn to cheer for her, too, as we are many of Deb’s characters who collude against Ray, yet who are his sole system of support.
Deb’s terrifically funny but flawed characters, coupled with her witty humor, propels us through the daily grind of Ray’s alcoholism, with Ray deep in denial as he negotiates life on his escapist fringe and runs Hilda’s from his camper. Because Deb moves us laughing and cheering into Ray’s world and his struggle with his pain, we cheer for him. We care about him because his demise is that of many we recognize. Deb’s humor connects us not only to story and characters, but also to the larger demise of all alcoholics, Via Ray’s laid-back humor, yet his very poignant circumstances.
Even as he deals with all the quirky folks in his life, and works his way toward the sale of Hilda’s, we know Ray’s facing an uphill battle. Question is, is Ray up for it? Will he win?
Humor is Deb’s forte. Readers will enjoy her humorous picture of clashing views on whether or not Ray should sell out and hit the road. Adding another layer, she drops in an intractable moose called “Wally” (Ray’s totem), who helps Teresa and Patty lure in the tourists to Hilda’s. Secretly posting Wally’s personal life via an Internet channel called “Wally Cam,” Patty and Teresa invite all to come see Wally and buy Wally “merch.” To Ray’s chagrin, they come, upending Ray’s vision of life!
What endears Ray to us most of all is his awareness of Wally as a force of nature, not a silly manufactured attraction for city slickers. We’re with Ray: Wally’s his own . . . er . . . person, and should remain so. Bingo! Deb’s story has a deep underlying current of pathos that looks askance, via Ray’s character, at the drive of today’s world to make a buck, the same drive that is the destruction of Ray’s bar—and his life. Deb presents this theme of tragic irony with great humor; thus, just like Ray, we want to yell at the tourists, “Get back on your freakin’ tour bus and leave Wally—and “bull headed” Ray—Alone.
Deb entertains with her insight into the human condition, and propels us with it through Red Dale Ray at a steady pace, and provides a satisfying conclusion. In the end, she leaves us with the story’s lesson, as Ray pursues recovery in a trailer park with other alcoholics. And finally, Deb pulls final plot threads together with more surprises, while maintaining her delightfully humorous writing style and grasp of her characters’ relationship dynamics in Red Dale Ray.