The brief attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the so-called “chick lit” by creating a subgenre called “lad lit” (meaning, instead of young women grappling with the realities of modern life, it would be young men) didn’t quite work out. With his novel D.B., Elwood Reid has taken a slightly different tack. Call it “man lit.”
The book is a “what if” tale that fictionalizes the true story of D.B. Cooper, a daredevil who hijacked an airplane in 1971, extorted $200,000 from the airline and parachuted to freedom. The act of daring made Cooper a folk hero, but in Reid’s tale, Cooper is really just a sad, lost Vietnam vet, a failure at career and marriage to whom the airplane hijacking represents his last shot at the American dream.
The novel starts with Cooper’s historic exploits and follows Fitch, years later, as a drifter in Mexico who never quite lived up to his one moment of glory. The tale of Fitch/Cooper is intercut with that of Frank Marshall, another sad middle-aged man. Marshall, once an FBI agent who investigated the Cooper case, is retiring and doesn’t have any clue how to spend the remainder of his life.
He drinks, annoys his wife, and contemplates an affair with a female witness he once protected while on the job. The Cooper case has always stuck with him, not so much because it was never solved, but because Marshall oddly admired Cooper’s guts for doing what so many men wish to do but don’t have the stomach for. He’s drawn back to the case by a young agent with a similar admiration for Cooper.
Reid’s book is unique in that its heroes are two men on the fringes of society – an outlaw and a once-useful man rendered nonexistent by retirement. D.B. also touches on the fleeting nature of fame in a poignant way when Fitch, still fearing he’ll get caught all these years after his exploits, starts to realize that few people care or even know about D.B. Cooper anymore. Reid doesn’t shy away from the deep disappointment and confusion the men feel, but underneath it all is a sense of hope. Both men want something that they can’t quite define but that they haven’t really given up on. Watch them grasp for it in their middle age is compelling. A book based on a folk hero’s legend could have been just a gimmick, but Reid makes the story seem fresh, spontaneous and, above all, heart-breakingly real.