Pocopson Township author releases debut novel
● By Richard Gaw
Where is Jake?
That question is central to the plot of Bryan Reardon's debut novel, "Finding Jake," which was published this week by HarperCollins.
In the pulse-pounding psychological thriller, Reardon puts his main character, Simon Connolly, right in the middle of every parent's worst nightmare: There has been a shooting at the local high school and his son is missing. An eyewitness said that Jake left the school after the shooting. His blood is found where the shootings occurred. Because he is unaccounted for in the aftermath of the school shooting, Jake becomes one of the two prime suspects.
As Simon sets out to find his son, he also begins questioning his own role in Jake's childhood. Simon’s wife has a successful career, so he is a stay-at-home dad and took the lead in raising their two children, Jake and Laney. What mistakes did he make as a parent? Did he miss warning signs? Could the incident have been prevented? As the story unfolds, Simon is forced to confront what he does and does not know about his teenage son.
Reardon weaves his tension-filled tale over 272 briskly paced pages, exploring Simon’s emotional depths during the desperate search for answers on the way to an ending that is as compelling as it is unexpected.
The book blends fictionalized versions of Reardon’s own experiences as a stay-at-home father with sharp observations about contemporary American life.
At a book signing at the Chester County Book Company in West Chester, Reardon talked about he wanted to explore the idea of a father caught up in the nightmare of a school shooting.
"I knew that I wanted to write from that perspective," he explained. "I took an event and imagined what it would be like as a parent."
Reardon graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame, and that background helped him take an honest look at a distressed father who is plagued by doubts.
There are more than a few parallels between Simon and Reardon’s own experiences as a stay-at-home father.
"I had many of the same thoughts and feelings that Simon Connolly has in the book," he explained. "I would take scenarios that I experienced as a stay-at-home dad and fictionalize them."
He read Dave Cullen’s award-winning non-fiction book "Columbine," which helped spark some of the themes that found their way "Finding Jake."
"That book made a lasting impression," Reardon explained. "He looked at all sides of what happened at Columbine. He took an honest look at the victims’ side, but he also looked at families of the shooters and what that was like."
While this is Reardon’s first work of published fiction, he has been writing for about 15 years. He said that he many ideas for stories through the years. He completed two manuscripts that went directly into the trunk, followed by three others that he shopped to agents and attracted some interest.
For a time, he stopped writing fiction entirely to focus on freelance work in medical communications. He also collaborated on several writing projects, including co-writing "Ready, Set, Play" with retired NFL player and ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth.
Reardon said that the enormous popularity of "Gone Girl"--for a period of time it seemed like Gillian Flynn's marriage-gone-bad book was everyone's favorite beach read—prompted him to try writing another novel.
"I love it when that many people get behind a book like that," Reardon explained. "They say that people don't read anymore, but that's obviously not true. I read Gillian Flynn’s "Gone Girl" right before I began writing "Finding Jake" and I just loved her writing style. It inspired me. She grabs your attention and makes you want to keep reading."
Reardon spent about four months in 2013 writing the initial draft of "Finding Jake." Being a fast writer is one of the byproducts of his work as a contract writer. But the success he has now achieved can be traced to a commitment to the revision process. He spent longer revising and editing the book, including significant changes to the ending, than he did on the first draft.
It took a long year between the final revisions and the publication of the book. Reardon said that he has already submitted the manuscript for his next book to his agent. That novel also explores the idea of questioning what you really know about another person.
"Finding Jake" is available in bookstores and online booksellers.