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Book Review: “Confessions of a Farmers Market Romeo”

James R. Dubbs — the fictional narrator of a new novel by Adams County author James R. Dubbs—led an eventful young life, beginning with his conception in his parents’ van at the end of a day of marketing at the Gettysburg Farmers Market.

He was a self-declared persnickety eater who loved a well-prepared, well-marbled piece of beef. That trait got him in some trouble with school staff, however, when the first week of school ended with beef stew for lunch.

While the meat was well-marbled, it appeared to the youngster appeared as though “the cubes had been brought to temperature in a pot of boiling water and then immediately rinsed off with cold tap water.”

The summer of his 11th year, our protagonist spied a girl standing with her parents at his parents’ booth at the farmers market on Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square. Jim instantly knew she was The One. Unfortunately for Jim, the girl—her name was Doris—had not received the memo.

Nor had her high-brow parents, who made it clear that they had just moved into the wooded section of Twin Oaks – “the most desirable subdivision in town,” Jim noted—and asked Jim’s parents whether the local school children were “the right kind of kids?”

Possibly to keep the young Romeo and Juliet apart, her parents shipped the young lady off to fat camp in the hills of Adams County, prompting Jim to embark on a reverse diet to qualify himself for admission to the same camp.

In a series of humorous events, he gained the necessary weight, was admitted to fat camp, and subsequently—with his counselor and his would-be First Love—expelled.

Thus began a string of humorous love affairs. There was Mandy, his brother’s girlfriend, an artist and the most beautiful girl in their high school. When the three were in Jim’s older brother Trez’ car together, she would sit in back with Jim, moving close enough to touch thighs while she talked about art and Jim talked about writing books.

Then there was Angela, a teen angel singer with The Cole Family, a traveling gospel group specializing in farmers market performances. That relationship ended when she handed him an envelope containing money and a piece of paper with the note, “For my half of the pizza” and left town. According to his best friend Wayne, Jim moped for the next three years of a Jim-described “season of decadence.”

Until he was joined by Tina, who with another young lass had attached herself to the punk rock band Jim’s friend had created and of which Jim had become part. She claimed to be a vegetarian (though she left McDonald’s wrappers under the seat of his Bronco), and referred to people who had died as having “moved on from used-to-be.”

Which almost happened to Jim and Tina the night they doused a chicken coop with gasoline and learned why it is dangerous to start a fire with gasoline—to free the enslaved chickens—even if one is protesting the manly art of shooting trapped birds.

The tale reads like a memoir, including a marbling throughout with a flavor of Jean Shepherd, narrator of the perennial presentation of the television favorite, “A Christmas Story.” A chuckle is embossed on nearly every page, populated by a fictional case of friends and exploits.

The real James R. Dubbs insists the characters are fictional, though some of the experiences may be less so. What is real is that Dubbs was raised in Adams County, within walking distance of Distelfinks ice cream stand, and bicycling distance of downtown Gettysburg.

He and his wife Johanna met while he was studying at the University of Alaska at Juneau in the 1990s, and upon their return to Adams County did, indeed, run a booth for about 12 years at the farmers market in Gettysburg.

“We made our living in seven months,” he said. “I was able to write the other five.”

He said he “squandered five months” trying to write a science fiction novel, at the end of which he had 10 pages. “Science fiction is more difficult to write than most people think,” he quipped.

But he also had been writing for magazines and newspapers and had published two “indie” books.

“You love doing this,” he quoted Joanna about his attempts at writing. “Just go ahead and do it.”

The result is his third book, and second novel, “Confessions of a Farmers Market Romeo.”

His current project is a novel set in the 1990s in Alaska. It connects a story from Skagway in 1890, featuring a flamboyant and successful con artist and gangster named Soapy Smith, with an artistic community a century later.

“I’m just starting so probably about three years,” he said of the new book’s anticipated publication date.

“Confessions of a Farmers Market Romeo,” is available from major booksellers, and from the real James R Dubbs’ website.

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John Messeder is a freelance reporter and photographer who resides in Cumberland Township. He may be contacted at john@johnmesseder.com

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2 months ago

This book has an amazing blend of humor and storytelling. I picked it up when it first came out and couldn’t put it down. If you grew up in the area, you’ll enjoy the subtle callbacks to local landmarks. I look forward to the author’s future work.

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