This review was first printed in eFiction Magazine and then reprinted in NightsAndWeekends.com:
After finishing Sam Torode's The Dirty Parts of the Bible, a semifinalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel competition, I quickly picked up its companion, The Book of Craw: a Hobo's Testament. The Dirty Parts of the Bible was so interesting and entertaining that I was eager to read more about Tobias Henry's friend and mentor, Cornelius "Craw" McGraw the hobo. However, I didn't exactly get the story that I expected. This 75-page companion book is a collection of poems that gives readers a deeper look into Craw's characters, but a narrative doesn't really exist.
What is interesting about Torode's companion book is that he succeeds in remaining true to Craw's character, even though there's a change in medium from fiction to poetry. While he could describe the one-handed African-American hobo in The Dirty Parts of the Bible and provide scenes that show his character in action, Torode has to rely on the poetry choices to show Craw's character, allowing the superficial to fall away and give us the crux of Craw's character.
While reading, I couldn't help wondering if Torode would be considered arrogant by some readers. After all, this collection places his poetry with that of well-known poets like Longfellow and Whitman. But Torode sets his readers up to believe that this is Craw's poetry: "This notebook was Craw's final testament to me," Tobias Henry writes in the forward. So the collection is meant to be a reflection on which poems Craw would have collected. It's a collection that a hobo would compile on his journeys, which is what makes it interesting.
Meanwhile, The Book of Craw functions wells as a companion because the book contains lines of dialogue that Craw said in The Dirty Parts of the Bible, along with other references to the book. The lines, while funny, will likely lose some of their context and meaning if a reader doesn't first enjoy The Dirty Parts of the Bible. For example, the important context behind the line that reads, "The problem with a lot of church people is that they're trying to be holier than Jesus" (Loc 395) is lost to the reader who hasn't read the novel, though it makes a fun line in and of itself, too. Another one of the poems, "Mulligan Stew," makes reference to a meal that Tobias and Craw share while on the road, and while a reader can enjoy it without the context, having the poem helps inform the novel well.
I was disappointed to learn that, in this companion piece's setting, Tobias Henry, who married at the end of The Dirty Parts of the Bible, has now been married for 60 years, and he feels that he's close to his end. While I understood that the book would be about Craw, I was disappointed to find that Torode wasn't going to give me more details about Tobias and his life with his wife, Sarah. To fast-forward 60 years from their wedding at the end of The Dirty Parts of the Bible to the setting of this collection felt like a cop out, and I was disappointed not to have more details.
While The Book of Craw: a Hobo's Testament is enjoyable as a book of poetry, a lot of its flavor is lost if you haven't read The Dirty Parts of the Bible, which means that it's a true companion piece--and it does its job well. It's a quick read, like its companion, but it's a very enjoyable one.