Steel Waters by Ken Coffman — a Sort-of Review

When I first saw the movie Lone Hero starring Lou Diamond Phillips, I wasn’t impressed. It seemed trite — a retelling of High Noon with outlaw bikers set against the background of a wild west show. Yet the next morning, as the story slowly sank into the backwaters of my mind, one scene after another percolated to the surface, and I found myself smiling at the sly humor and wry nuances I was discovering. Lone Hero is now one of my favorite movies, one that gets richer with each viewing.

This retrospective appreciation has happened with a few other films, but I until recently I never read a book that became better with aging. Most go in one synapse and out the other before sinking into oblivion, but Steel Waters by Ken Coffman refuses to stay there.

Coffman’s wry humor and gritty descriptions immediately captivated me, but his hero didn’t. I have no use for characters (or people) who bring about their own miseries. Glen Wilson walked away from his wife and farm for no other reason than because he thought needed to. When he ended up in a Bolivian jail, I didn’t care. And neither did he. He seems to have a great capacity for accepting the status quo until suddenly he wants something else. (Usually without knowing what that something else is.)

Still, Glen Wilson was unique and compelling enough for me to keep reading. He is a mixture of opposites: hard-boiled and quixotic, opportunistic and idealistic, down-to-earth and impractical. And I enjoyed the book.

As Steel Waters percolates, however, I see much that I missed. Sure, Glen Wilson brings about his own predicament, but he is a victim of his own unresolved wants. They pull at him, buffeting him from one wild adventure to the other. The book has an episodic feel to it, but all mythic journeys do, and in the end, that is what Steel Waters is: mythic.

You are familiar with the mythic journey template. It’s the basic format of Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Hunt for Red October. An ordinary person answers the call to adventure. Meets mentors, allies, enemies. Passes tests. Undergoes the supreme ordeal, seizes the reward, and finally returns home — a hero in truth. Or not. Coffman doesn’t follow the format exactly. Glen Wilson may or may not be a hero. He may or may not be changed. This is the beauty of the mythic journey template — it is infinitely changeable without ever losing its power.

So now I have to go back and reread Steel Waters with this percolation in mind, see the layering of the nuances and the humor. I’ll let you know if it’s as good the second time around as it is in memory.

See also: Pat Bertram Introduces Glen Wilson, Hero of Five Ken Coffman Novels

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8 Responses to “Steel Waters by Ken Coffman — a Sort-of Review”

  1. Kat Sheridan Says:

    Your adventure has only just begun, Pat. Let it percolate for awhile. Then pick up the next in the series. And the next. And the next… Glen Wilson is one of those perverse characters you simply cannot forget. I’m constantly torn between wanting to take him home and feed him, or shoot him on sight. Quixotic is the perfect term for him, and he only gets more so as you read his continuing adventures. Much like his creator, Ken Coffman, a many layered, multi-facted, multi-talented writer.

    I envy you, Pat. You are at the beginning of a grand adventure. And oh, what a ride it will be (yes, there’s a great big grin on my face just thinking about it!)

  2. ~Sia McKye~ Says:

    Glenn is a fascinating character. Not always likable, sometimes you want to smack him, but those very opposites do draw you to him and you find yourself on his side and rooting for him. A sort of anti-hero. I never quite thought of it as an oddessy, and yet now that you mention it, yes it has that feel. I love the layers of humor, not always caught straight away, but do have a way of sticking in your mind.

    I enjoyed your take on Steel Waters.

  3. Sheila Deeth Says:

    Sounds fascinating. Certainly a book review that piques my interest.

  4. Ken Coffman Says:

    I spent over a decade working in complete obscurity with no sign that the universe cared a whit. Now, 15 years into the process of converting myself from an electrical engineer to a novelist, it looks like a wave of sorts is building. You have no idea how much I appreciate your support and encouragement. From the bottom of my heart, thank you guys. The best part? We’re just getting started!

  5. Hemi Boso Says:

    I’m a great fan of Ken’s novels and am happy to see that recognition is finally coming his way. I particularly admire his skill at creating characters that make you smile and gag simultaneously. Hang in there Ken. You are very close to spontaneously combusting into the light of lime!

  6. Adina Says:

    I am late to the discussion but as a big fan of Ken’ writing I figured better late than never .
    Glen Wilson. Where to start describing such a character ? He’s controversial , misogynist , dysfunctional gentle ogre , bigger than life character you love to hate and hate to love. Emotionally and physically scarred Glen is so well sketched in the body of Mr. Coffman’s work that I found myself regarding him as a real , flesh and blood person, a man feeding my need to redeem lost souls from self destruction .It’s a mixture of Art imitates life and the other way around. One other time only I remember being so caught up in the fictional life of a powerful character , specifically when I read Philip Roth’s Sabbath Theatre .
    As far as the overall writing technique, it’s perfect. Every I is dotted and every T is crossed , making Mr. Coffman’s challenge to the reader to find technical hiccups in his books a lost bet from the start.
    Not only good read, but a good tutorial for any aspiring writer.

  7. Ken Sanzel Says:

    Thanks for the kind words on Lone Hero. Always nice to know that someone was watching…

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Not only watching, but enjoying! I really loved the subtle and not so subtle humor. And you actually made Lou Diamond Phillips a reprehensible yet loveable character — hard to do.


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