What kind of an effect can one person have during his or her lifetime? Come Christmastime, it's nearly impossible to avoid being hit with this question as the film, It's a Wonderful Life, fights to show just how much a single person can do. With his protagonist, Haycraft Keebler, author Kirby Gann seems to be treading on similar ground to Frank Capra's film. However, where Capra's George Bailey was played by film icon, Jimmy Stewart, and there were at least visible tangible results (though nowhere near the results he was ultimately shown), Gann's Keebler would probably be played by somebody much less leading man material - large, big mustache, not the cleanliest man in the neighborhood, with nothing but sandals on his feet year round. Through Our Napoleon in Rags, it is also much more difficult to find similar tangible results of Keebler's work.
Another big difference is that the film is given an omniscient narrator, one located in Heaven, where Gann appears to have entrusted his story to Keebler, a clinically depressed individual who goes back and forth between taking and ignoring his medication. And who else to trust as a reader among his group of peers? Romeo Diaz? A bitter, semi-successful businessman who routinely tosses away his successes for seemingly ridiculous reasons? A man who nurses scotch all night long? How about Chesley Sutherland? A police officer in Keebler's hometown of Montreaux, KY. The novel begins with Sutherland on probation for an excessive force violation and ends with him on a similar probation, with a return to full service in between. These two are typical examples of the folks who spend the bulk of their waking hours at the Don Quixote, a bar owned by Beau and Glenda in Olde Towne, a decaying downtown that was once the thriving hub of Montreaux.
The changes that Haycraft pushes through are few and far between, if they are for the better at all. In an effort to rid the Olde Towne area of eyesore garbage - not the bagged weekly variety, but old metal equipment, tires, cement blocks, etc. - he pulls large piece into a street that causes a bus accident thinking that this will force the local government to clean everything up. When this doesn't work (and in fact, causes an elderly woman to be a part of the accident), he rounds up all of the young graffiti artists in town and has them paint every such piece of refuse gold. This does lead to things being cleaned up a bit.
It is through this connection to the young artists that Haycraft meets, and falls in love with, Lambret, a fifteen year old male hustler who spends his money on paint so he can huff and get high. While the gang at the Don Quixote is willing to listen to Haycraft's philosophical rantings at length, his association with Lambret causes them all to hold him near arm's length.
While It's a Wonderful Life allows the viewer to see George Bailey's affect on his city, and even the world, sporadically throughout the film, aside from very small peeks, Gann holds back Keebler's accomplishments from the reader until the very latter part of the book. This might give a casual reader cause to bail out of a novel that at times doesn't seem to be moving forward. However those who stick around to the end, will be treated to an interesting twist, not quite a gimmick, that throws a different light on the story just read. It is those who reach the end of this novel that will find it moving in their minds from an average work with some really beautiful writing, to a really interestingly structured piece of work.
3.75 stars (a rare rating but I couldn't decide between 3.5 and 4.0 stars)