WEST WARWICK — In his first ever book, Coventry native Bobby Bruneau has channeled a lifetime of experiences into a heartfelt story of a son’s complicated relationship with his father, and how it’s followed him through the decades of his life.
A 1968 graduate of Coventry High School and current resident of South Carolina, Bruneau authored “The Craftsman’s Crucible” by drawing from many of his own recollections of growing up in the Pawtuxet Valley and later traveling the world.
“A lot of what happens in the story are things that I experienced in my own life, at least in the young years,” Bruneau said Monday, as he held in his hands a copy of the 436-page book, a historical fiction.
The story follows a man whose childhood was “fraught with anxiety, loneliness and despair” as he comes to terms with how that childhood — and, specifically, his relationship with his father — has affected him.
“The character grew up in a home where there was not a whole lot of love,” Bruneau said of the protagonist, who much like himself spent much of his youth in West Warwick.
The father, based partly on Bruneau’s own dad, was a World War II veteran and a craftsman who always had harsh words for his son. And the mother, a devoutly religious woman, was frequently absent as she struggled with mental illness stemming from psychological trauma.
“The main character’s conflict is mostly with the father,” Bruneau explained, noting that the protagonist is the “crucible” of the book’s title — the place where his father “placed all of the disappointments and dreams that he, himself, had.”
The story follows the main character’s journey “from point ‘a’ to point ‘b,’” as he reflects on his relationships with his parents and begins to realize the reasons behind his father’s behavior.
Bruneau grew up in Coventry, but spent a lot of his childhood in West Warwick as a student at a parochial school in town. As he spoke Monday about “The Craftsman’s Crucible,” memories of his own childhood unraveled with the conversation. Bruneau recalled walking the train tracks from his grandparent’s house in Arkwright and wandering the villages of Phenix and Hope.
“These are the streets of my youth,” he said, “and it took being away from here to make a complete connection with how to see it.”
In one part of the story, the protagonist revisits the shop on Main Street where he used to get his hair cut while straddling a horse-head barber chair. Only all these years later, the barbershop from his memory has been replaced by a pizza shop.
That reference, Bruneau said, is one that older readers who grew up in West Warwick may recognize.
While much of the protagonist’s childhood is reflective of Bruneau’s own childhood, the similarities between author and character begin to fade in the adult years. But Bruneau made sure to weave into the story at least a few of his more recent adventures.
“I added whatever was interesting enough and felt applicable to the story,” he said.
In one of those adventures, for example, the main character takes a ride on a vintage biplane during a visit to Australia. The vivid description of the experience of riding on “a giant primordial bird” and “soaring toward an invisible prey” was drawn from Bruneau’s own memory.
“That’s something that actually happened to me,” Bruneau said of the aerobatic ride. “You really feel like you’re flying.”
Bruneau has always enjoyed writing. Even before earning his bachelor’s degree in English from Charleston Southern University, Bruneau throughout much of his lifetime would turn to writing poetry as a way of coping with life’s tragedies.
“The Craftsman’s Crucible,” however, is Bruneau’s first full-length published work.
“The biggest challenge, I think, was having the confidence that I would be able to come up with enough information that was of interest to someone else to make a book,” said Bruneau, who added that he already has the plot in mind for his second book — a romance novel that he likened to “The Notebook.”
Bruneau began writing “The Craftsman’s Crucible” around a decade ago, encouraged by friends who insisted he record some of the stories he often shared aloud.
“I’ve been all over the world,” said Bruneau, who before his retirement worked for the Navy inspecting submarines. “I’ve flown upside down in airplanes, I’ve jumped the highest bungee in the world — I’ve cheated death lots of times.”
Still, there’s no feeling quite like finally holding in his hand a finished copy of his first book.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said.
As for the book’s audience, Bruneau’s editor had suggested the book could be categorized as “self-help.” Bruneau, on the other hand, said he envisions it appealing to anyone who “needs any kind of direction” or who’s ever craved adventure.
He added that he hopes it helps readers realize the depth of their worth.
“In their own lives, whatever the issues are, and to whatever degree that affects them, I hope this helps them see that it’s you who holds the answer to who you’re going to be in life,” Bruneau continued, “not by how many degrees you’ve got, but by how many demons you’ve faced.”
To get a copy of “The Craftsman's Crucible “ before it hits bookstores, email email@example.com.