A Rhawnhurst resident has penned his first novel, In the Beginning.
Jaime Reyes has a lot in common with Og, the main character of his first published novel, In the Beginning. Aside from being wise and acting as the patriarch of their respective families, they have both lived much longer than they expected.
The story, which follows a family in the age of Neanderthals as Og uses imaginary spirits to persuade those around him, technically formulated in Reyes’ mind since he was in fourth grade. He was assigned to write a book report, and chose to compare Greek and Roman mythology.
“I wanted to know, what makes people devote themselves to a particular way of thinking about something,” he said. “People always believed in something, even way, way back. Someone had to organize something.”
It was a story he sat on for nearly his entire life. He worked as a writer for 25 years, submitting columns to major local publications.
Now 73, the Rhawnhurst resident last year had a major heart attack that had him flatline twice. He spent a month and a half in the hospital, and returned home with renewed vigor.
“I knew I could sit around and wait to die until it happened again, or I could do something with the time I have left,” he said.
So his longtime vision of Og and his story was finally realized. Within a matter of weeks, he had jotted between 30,000 and 40,000 words, and spent much of the past year editing it down to his debut novel, available now.
In the Beginning opens with Og, lonely in his cave outside of the village, contemplating the stormy weather outside. He realizes he can use his lack of fear of the storm to his advantage, and convinces the townspeople — including the chief — that the spirits were angry with them, and only he knew how to appease them.
The short book (just 80 pages) follows three generations of Og’s family as he continues to expand upon the increasingly complicated tale he weaves. As a Neanderthal, Og is very old, but as the character says, just because he’s older than all other Neanderthals doesn’t mean his time is up yet.
Reyes, who said Og has some semi-autobiographical traits, said he himself can’t seem to stay dead.
“I should have been dead at least seven times,” he said.
His life has seen birthing complications, serving in the Vietnam War — and even being in a plane that was hit by lightning.
On a flight to Puerto Rico with his family through a storm, the plane shuttered and dropped a thousand feet. Reyes remembered maintaining his composure.
“I was telling the kids to be calm, that it would be all right,” he said.
Luckily, the pilot maintained the same level of composure, and the plane evened out. But that’s just one tale of Reyes flirting with death. He’s resilient, hardened by the war, and it reflects in his writing — there are many detailed battle scenes that narrate the protagonist’s precise thought process in the heat of battle, down to each parry and sidestep.
Reyes has a simple writing style, akin to an old legend such as the Epic of Gilgamesh. The style is very simple, light on dialogue and focused heavily on the action.
Another trait Og and Reyes share is big families. Reyes has 12 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, most of whom he tried to insert in the book. His youngest granddaughter inspired Mina, Og’s youngest, who sets out to prove that women can be just as fierce of fighters as men.
“Now all of my children want characters based on them,” he laughed. Perhaps he’ll save the idea for future projects.
Not every trait is alike, though.
“The only religious preference I have is I prefer devil’s food cake to angels’ food cake,” Reyes joked. ••
Reyes will host a book signing June 9 at the northwest corner of Oakmont and Bradford from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.