Author: Calvin Barry Schwartz
Publisher: Earthood Media, LLC Publishers
ISBN: 978-0-578-03858-2

When Alex Zari and Elvin Stone meet for the first time in 1960 as high school students in a vacant lot in the Weequahic section of Newark, New Jersey, little did they realize that their friendship would endure for over forty years. A friendship that personifies the adage that if you manage to have one sincere friend during your lifetime, consider yourself very fortunate.

Vichy Water might simply have been about the value of exceptional and rare friendship, however, Calvin Barry Schwartz has gone much further. He has crafted two complex characters, exploring the deepest riches of their psyches, as they grapple with life's difficult situations. One caveat, however, if you insist on a happy and quick read, this long slog of a novel may not be for you, but bear in mind, you will be missing out on the work of a very intelligent and talented writer.

Alternating with chapters and sections about Elvin are those involving Alex. We learn that Alex is an Egyptian American, who is half Muslim, from his mother and half Coptic Christian from his father, while Elvin is Jewish. In spite of their religious differences, they manage to shun the prejudices that surround them. For Alex and Elvin, “in the grand design of things, we should've all been given the same skin; either, black, brown, red, yellow, or boring pink so no prejudice, crusades, concentration camps or men riding around with white sheets over their heads. The less differences in people, less reasons for difference.” And although, over the years, both do grow separately, insofar as their careers and personal lives are concerned, spiritually, they never grow apart, and are always inextricably bound together.

Elvin graduates from Rutgers with a Masters degree and becomes a history teacher. After a few years of teaching, Elvin's blond beautiful Italian mistress, whose father owns an eye glass factory, persuades him to join the family company as a salesman. Incidentally, Elvin is into his second, supposedly happy marriage, as the first one was doomed from the very first day.

Elvin proves to be at times puzzling but yet very perceptive, as he astutely ruminates and intelligently addresses a wide spectrum of themes such as death, identity and the search for self, ecology, marriage, divorce, friendship, loss, sexuality, religion, racism, and a host of others. A good example of Elvin's telling observations is his picturesque description of the elderly in a retirement home: “Old folks were gathered under a single roof, living days simply; morning seated exercises, afternoon bingo, monthly podiatry visits, and Atlantic City excursions with walkers temporarily stored underneath the bus. Aging is part of life because we do and until they find that stupid switch which starts the process, we always will.”

Elvin is also extremely passionate in his beliefs and even goes to the extent of putting up fifty signs on his front lawn during Halloween made to look like burning candles, with messages contained in the flames. Messages that deal with ethical and emotional implications as he takes on cigarette manufacturers, companies that recall products, food companies, and others. He believes “it is an expression of freedom, to reach people and make them think.”

From a very young age, Alex has always been interested in astronomy, eventually graduating from Princeton and Harvard and becoming a brilliant and noted astronomer. He is a somewhat mysterious character, who is blessed with very unusual senses, haunting visions, ideas and feelings. At Princeton, Alex slides into something wherein he becomes a member of a secret society known as Gabriel that has a great deal of money and power at its disposal. Apparently, for sixty years they have infiltrated every aspect of life in America and even abroad. As a result, his life meant a great deal of travel, meetings, CIA encounters, Observatories and Situation Rooms, all ironically related to the President of the USA. However, no one suspected anything.

Vichy Water is rich in character and detail, as Schwartz skillfully choreographs Elvin and Alex, moving them into a variety of fresh configurations, giving each a turn as the central actor, as they confront a variety of challenges. And if you grew up during the same era as these two, you will undoubtedly identify with them and their provocative perspectives about experiencing life during the latter half of the twentieth century. Another one of the pleasures of this novel is the uniqueness of Schwartz's voice with his spare and seductive prose, as he unfolds the many layers of the narrative, intricately weaving profound themes and forcing the reader to stare into the haunting face of the real world. On the surface the novel may appear modest in scope, but Schwartz continuously rattles us with his powerful insights and observations concerning universal issues. The only place where the novel falters is the sometimes lack of smooth transitions, particularly when you have the inclusion of scenes that seem to come from nowhere and leave us scratching our heads as to what it all means. Perhaps, this is what Schwartz intended-relying on the readers to mull over and fill in the gaps?

Calvin Barry Schwartz graduated from Rutgers University in 1969 with two degrees and practiced Pharmacy before a career in sales. Presently, he imports eyewear from China and is a husband and father. Vichy Water is his debut novel.

Click Here To Purchase Vichy Water

Click Here To Read Norm's Interview With Calvin Barry Schwartz Author of Vichy Water