Real Gone is a meandering novella about a draft dodger in the 1960s who moves to Canada. Written by one-time American Jim Christy, who relocated to Canada in 1968, the book reads like a memoir.
The narrator, also named Jim Christy, reconstructs a year or so of his life when he was in his early twenties, driving around America with buddies and girlfriends, contemplating the cruelty of bigots and the naïveté of hippies, getting arrested and drafted, deciding to flee north, and taking part in a murder trial.
Written in Christy’s customary plainspoken prose style, Real Gone presents a portrait of an America polarized between revolutionaries and racists. The narrator fashions himself as an anarchist and has no kind words to say about the crazies on either side. If he identifies with any group, it’s the black underclass. He has a deep knowledge of old time rhythm and blues, studies at a black college, and is the only white guy to attend a lecture by Muhammad Ali on the Nation of Islam. (Ali shakes Christy’s hand and hams it up for the cheering crowd while whispering in his ear, “What you doin’ here, boy?”).
Increasingly, Christy has no answer to that question. He attempts to go to Atlanta for the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral, dodging race riots along the way, but ends up in a North Carolina jail for being out on the street after curfew.
America, he concludes, has no place for the likes of him. Before he can leave, though, he’s called as a character witness at a good friend’s trial for murder. The trial goes better than expected, but the accused man is still convicted. Christy heads for Canada, and the book comes to a sudden close.
Ultimately, this slim volume is more first act than complete story. Canada, in this fiction, is the Promised Land, or at least not the Land of Chaos. Canadian readers may find this storyline comforting, but the mythology of the 1960s as the most important decade – and Canada as the Great, Sane, Liberated Place – is more than stale. Entering Canada, Jim Christy (protagonist) leaves behind the outrageous U.S., but this doesn’t offer the reader narrative satisfaction.