In the winter of his life, Nathaniel, a fruit rat, is bored, angry and depressed. Even his longsuffering wife, Birgit is becoming impatient with his litany of complaints and ailments. Nathaniel has grown increasingly self-focused possessing little interest in his colorless world. Sometimes he wistfully recalls his adventures as a young rat in search of life’s meaning. But then again, he thinks that what seemed profound then, now feels banal and mundane. Life changes for Nathaniel when he encounters an old acquaintance, the eccentric old possum, Mr. Leach who blames Nathaniel’s “wretched state” on his trying to claim others’ epiphanies as his own. “One creature’s epiphany is another creature’s folly”. To discover your own truth, you must engage and extract. The lessons your life wants to teach you must be “extracted, mined, extricated, yanked, torn, and even ripped from your experience”. And, Mr. Leach adds, “The lessons that life wants to teach you are always there, even in the boredom. You just have to EXTRACT them!” Determined to engage and extract and learn the lessons life wants to teach him, Nathaniel wanders about until he discovers a bustling field mouse colony. He hides himself and watches them secretly wondering if they are indeed mice since he had never encountered one. As the winter approaches so do the devil winds which blow hot air in from the desert and raise the risk of wildfires. When a wildfire breaks out, Nathaniel rescues a young field mouse named Wendel who is seriously burned and loses his sight. Nathaniel too is injured. Nathaniel wants to return the mouse to the colony but it is nowhere to be found. They have retreated to the crawlspace under a house owned by the McCorkle brothers. The colony grandfather known as Jid an honorific title given to the colony grandfather/leader attempts to rescue Wendel from Nathaniel who believes is holding Wendel as his captor. Nathaniel awakens and both he and Wendel attempt to clarify that Nathaniel was his rescuer. Nevertheless, Jid is distrustful and suspicious. After a period of convalescence Nathaniel visits Wendel who seems to have changed; he has become mature, self-confident, and very concerned about the space where the colony is residing. The McCorkles hate the mice and are determined to rid the house of them. They retain the Exterminator and the Jid is the first to be caught in an horrific glue trap. Nathaniel is begged to help free him but the efforts are futile. Nathaniel stays and keeps watch with Jid and they talk about many important things until he gradually succumbs to weakness and collapses in the glue. He makes a final request of Nathaniel: convey to the colony that he has chosen Wendel to become the new colony Jid because of his wisdom. Wendel may “have lost his sight but gained his vision”. Nathaniel says he will do this but keeps the information to himself instead viewing himself as Wendel’s defender. Wendel has been traumatized, he is too young for the burden of leadership. Nathaniel must protect Wendel. We see that Nathaniel’s depression had lifted as he took care of the mouse colony and we begin to understand what even Nathaniel doesn’t; he wants to be the new Jid. He has found his cause or what his wife calls his little project and wants to keep it all to himself. It is a disorienting revelation when Nathaniel uncovers, with Mr. Leach’s help, his selfish desires. As he has learned the art of engagement, Nathaniel discovers a world brimming with intriguing complexities; the mouse colony fascinates him and he sees its joys and sorrows, victories and setbacks, justice and injustice. But engagement without extraction is to live without meaning. It is nothing more than sensation without interpretation. Engagement without extracting what is meaningful will never render the lessons life wants to teach you. So, Mr. Leach asks, what is that worth? Nathaniel is challenged by Mr. Leach to extract the meaning from his experience where he learns far more about himself, what is important, and how his relationship to the colony can be just as life giving when defined by friendship as authority. The night before Nathaniel is to speak before the colony he must decide whether to disclose Jid’s final wish that Wendel be appointed the new Jid. After he speaks, his blues piece is decidedly more upbeat reflecting the resolution of his ambivalence regarding the role of Jid.
Humbled and ashamed, I stood before the crowd.
A defect in my character, I shared it right out loud.
I had to put it right. I had to make things right.
Put it right or toss and turn all night.
The role was not for me.
This book is intended for Young Adult and Adult readers who enjoy fantasy, whimsy, and a dash of epistemology for a deep think.
Plot: In Nathaniel’s Got the Blues, Heaney has crafted an engaging and surprising narrative with a streamlined plot, solid pacing, and endearing characters.
Prose/Style: Heaney's clearly-composed, witty, and sophisticated writing allows the unique story to shine.
Originality: Though Heaney's novel calls to mind classic works of children’s literature, the story of a rat facing ennui and grappling with existential questions is refreshing, fun, and wholly original.
Character Development: Nathaniel is a charming, relatable protagonist, and the work introduces a number of other distinctive animal characters who, while not as finely developed, nevertheless strongly benefit the narrative.
Date Submitted: July 22, 2020
In Nathaniel’s Got The Blues by David L. Heaney the author exposes that life lessons are the soul's spiritual lessons for growth through adversity. Heaney is a master storyteller with the ability to touch the heart of every reader at any age. Highly recommended.
The prose – and poetry! – of this book is lyrical and airbourne, a style that creates a sense of flight for the reader. David’s sensitivity to the animal world, and the manner in which he creates parables, bonds the messages with the mind, an experience too seldom encountered with contemporary literature..Eloquent! Highly recommended.