Keith Cymry,
Hope in a Nutshell
(Xlibris, 2005)

Keith Cymry can rest assured that he has written a pretty impressive novel because he managed to impress me despite the fact that his worldview could not be more opposite than my own. Hope in a Nutshell is described on the cover as an "underground novel," which means, just as I suspected, it is a novel borne of a counter-culture mindset seemingly imported from the 1960s. Fortunately, though, there is much more to this story than a litany of attacks against most of the things I hold dear.

Much in the same vein of a trickster god, Cymry critiques modern society with a sort of impishness that keeps the story lively and fun no matter what is happening. This is clear from the very start as he dives into a philosophical, allegorical discussion of the walnut, which actually manages to set the tone for the story to follow. It's all about finding and cultivating hope in even the worst of situations -- and the importance of always questioning authority and refusing to conform for conformity's sake.

The book's main character, Uriah Freestone (Stoney), is certainly a nonconformist, a modern vagabond who quit school because of a dress code, embraced drug use at a young age, went on to become an honors student-athlete who studied ancient languages at Cardiff, spent some time writing tunes for a gypsy blues band and is now hitchhiking across the country with an extraordinary raven. When Mary Beth Donovan gives him a ride one fateful night, she could never have dreamed this man would some day become a wanted terrorist who would revolutionize the entire world with technology gleaned from a walnut shell. She is actually the key to the whole adventure, though, for she is the one chosen to receive the extraordinary nut -- and the mystifying Mayan medallion it contains. The unique artifact is a gift from the god Cernunnos who, along with Danu, Buddha, the Hindu Triumvirate and several other gods, is challenging the authority of the Yahweh/Jesus/Lucifer/Allah alliance in the City of Forever. Billions of souls hang in the balance as Stoney and Mary Beth attempt to understand and utilize the extraordinary gifts the medallion and its walnut housing offer. With gods meddling in human affairs, industrialists anxious to get their hands on the mysterious medallion and the government eventually targeting Stoney as a terrorist using drug money to finance a dangerous new technology, things get pretty complicated pretty quickly. Oh, there's also a deadly plague threatening to wipe out a good portion of humanity.

The more I write, the more I realize how impossible it is to give anything resembling a decent description of this story. The gist of it, though, is the fact that Stoney is deemed a terrorist for the breakthrough technology he develops using the secrets of the encoded walnut, especially after he sells it to the Russians. Its purpose is to provide abundant energy for very low cost to the entire world, but the government and many an industrialist label it a weapon of mass destruction. How does all this end? Somewhat anti-climactically, actually -- and not without a few loose ends still blowing in the breeze. At its heart, though, this book represents a unique journey toward spiritual enlightenment, and the journey is more informative and certainly more entertaining than the final destination.

The author does like to interject his own personal opinions into the story. That's OK, normally, but his use of a self-proclaimed intrusive narrator gets a little tiring after a while. He is all too eager to poke fun at political conservatives, big business and every major form of religion on Earth. I disagree with him on virtually every count, but that's OK, too -- it's certainly his prerogative, after all. I do think he goes overboard at times and does more harm than good to his own message. His idea of freedom seems to include the right to grow, use, transport and sell marijuana, for example. He compares modern America to the Soviet Union in its heyday, even going so far as to attack the Constitution as an instrument for endorsing slavery in the form of jail time for lawbreakers. Worst of all, though, he says Americans are defined by their own ignorance. Now, where I come from, calling the good folks of the U.S. of A. ignorant isn't going to win you any friends. It is regrettable that Cymry sometimes takes the Highway because such brash tactics tend to diminish some of the arguments and social critiques he proves himself well equipped to address constructively.

As I said, though, I still found Hope in a Nutshell to be an impressive novel, one that is filled to the brim with powerful ideas and satirical juggernauts. The fact that I'm a staunch conservative saying this just goes to show that Cymry's literary eloquence is quite capable of bridging the largest of political and social divides among readers. This novel is a rare mix of science fiction/fantasy, allegory, politics and philosophy, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone of an intellectual bent who enjoys being challenged while being entertained.

by Daniel Jolley
9 June 2007

Buy it from