Robert Hobkirk writes dialogue. A lot of it. That is his craft. He truly gets into a story and how a character tells that story through well-written and believable, albeit sometimes terminally-long, dialogue. Yet in the midst of this talking and storytelling and the crafting of a character’s thoughts rather than action, the narrative is forcibly reduced. The characters become compelling, and not necessarily likable, which is a perfect echo of the relations of everyday human life, their stories believable, but their situation, their surroundings, falter as that external impetus does not become a driving force. Tommy’s Exodus, then, comes to close to basically being a collection of well-told experiences within an anthology-style framing sequence.
With Tommy’s Exodus, Hobkirk presents the titular character as a veteran back from Afghanistan and on a loser’s path in LA – nearly homeless, alcoholic, and penniless – who decides to hightail it back to the familial home in Sacramento. Hence the exodus. And in a Joseph Campbell by way of Homer fashion, our hero encounters a number of challenges that he must overcome, or, in typical 21st century slacker American standards, ignore until they go away. Chief among these challenges is the antagonist Pharaoh, after all, you can’t have an exodus without a Pharaoh to run from. Tommy’s next totally-relatable nemesis is even worse: the US healthcare system.
Through it all are Tommy’s many interactions through the constant telling of stories, be they relevant to the plot or not. And those that are not, which are plenty, Hobkirk gladly plays out his ruminations and philosophy, including a prolonged spot of right-wing talk radio, lengthen that end game. Tommy’s Exodus often times reads like a script to a compelling play as the narrative is the character. Scripts, however, don’t always make for the most complete of reading experiences.
Hobkirk beautifully builds within Tommy a unique, moral character who makes mistakes – plenty of them – and is also keen on changing his mind. Similar to a talkative co-worker or the guy behind the counter at Five Guys, Tommy is also annoying but wants to be heard. Hobkirk succeeds in giving Tommy that voice while demonstrating that the journey of the exodus might be more compelling than the reaching of the promised land.