By James Michael Potter
In James Michael Potter’s debut novel, the author
brings together stories about three spiritually struggling
people by using some unconventional storytelling. Fortunately,
In Moth Crazy, Potter, a Durango archaeologist, jumps
back and forth between the first-person narratives of
his three characters. Breaking up the relatively short
chapters into snippets, and then breaking up the chapters
into sections, Potter provides an enjoyable story that
gives readers enough diversity in its flow to encourage
them to stick with it to the end – just to see how
the lives of these characters end up having a permanent
This book tells the story of three people: Lukin (aka
Luke), Sharon and Gaia. Each one is, on some level, struggling
with a personal issue in his or her life that is important
enough for each to figure out, but not overtake their
daily living. Luke is a 20-ish archaeologist whose father
is hounding him about his future. His father can’t
stand Luke’s affliction of slacker ennui. To escape,
Luke jogs. But instead of being attentive while he exercises,
he battles the feelings of his broken heart, his thoughts
trailing off into jazz rhythms or songs. The consequence
becomes dangerous. One night while jogging, Luke is hit
by a car.
It was a painful experience, but one that encourages
him to move on to Arizona, where he attends school and
becomes a student of past civilizations. But he never
fully sheds his demons. He becomes addicted to painkillers
and is so lovelorn that he sabotages any chance of a new
relationship. Along the way, he becomes friends with colorful
Sharon supplies Luke with the drugs. She’s a professional
escort but loves women. She’s the type of person
who adapts to any situation – as long as she has
her cigarettes and the attention of others.
Gaia, whose New Age-type name doesn’t quite meet
Potter’s personality of her, meets Sharon and Luke
in a Flagstaff bar. Gaia is on her own spiritual journey
that she hopes will mimic Jack Kerouac’s so she
can write about it.
The trio makes for an unlikely group that survives just
enough of their own torment that they are able to travel
with peace and unity to New Mexico, where Luke is working
on an archaeological dig.
From there, the story finally takes some twists and turns.
Too bad Potter didn’t expand this storyline to create
more of a thriller – and earlier in the book –
so that readers could delve into the characters even more.
But the surprise plot change is still engaging enough
as Potter switches between the narratives.
Potter’s expertise as an archaeologist comes through
in his writing. He clearly knows the Southwest well enough
to provide a believable lead character. He also writes
knowledgably about American Indian culture. Moth crazy,
readers learn, is what Navajos call something that is
“intense but directionless.” That aptly describes
Luke, Sharon and Gaia.
For Potter’s first novel, Moth Crazy is a success.