Friday, June 05, 2009
When Your Dad’s Dying Wish is to Have His Ashes Sprinkled in Each State, What’s a Son to Do?
by David Jerome
(Smack Books / 0-981-54591-2 / 978-0-981-54591-2 / March 2009 / 336 pages / $23.95 hardcover / $17.96 Amazon)
Reviewed by Celia Hayes for PODBRAM
To hear him tell it, in this rollicking account of the most disaster-prone road trip ever, if it weren’t for bad luck, poor young Jim “Roastbeef” Hume would have had no luck at all. He has embarked on a marathon journey through all 48 continental US states, in obedience to his adoptive father’s deathbed wish to scatter his ashes in every one of them. With not very much in his pocket, or a particular itinerary in mind, he drops out of college and sets out bravely, with three-fifths of his father’s ashes in a silver urn that looks like a teapot without the spout. (This is a compromise, as two of his sibs agreed with his plan, and the other two wanted a more conventional solution.) He starts out in his own car, which barely lasts through the first couple of states, thereafter advancing in fits and starts. He continues via other cars, hitchhiking, biking, moped, and intercity bus, and one hysterically comic interlude of hopping railcars under the guidance of an old man with emphysema, who recalls the most fun he ever had in his life, riding the rails as a hobo. He wishes to recapture some of that, if Jim will only carry along the oxygen bottle to which he is tethered. The scene where Jim must throw the oxygen bottle into a moving railcar and beans a pig with it is laugh out loud, tears down your face funny. In the meantime, he encounters a wonderfully assorted collection of characters: small town law enforcement, frat boys and sorority girls, Canadian dentists on a road trip disguised as bad-ass bikers, a lesbian who hires him to pretend to be her boyfriend for the duration of a family reunion, a young Marine and his very pregnant bride to be who are going to Las Vegas to be married by a Boy George look-alike, a conniving young man who gets his fun crashing wedding receptions, and a philosopher/launderette attendant … and many, many more. Jim winds up being arrested mistakenly in a drug bust, working in a family souvenir shop at Mount Rushmore, is dragged off to Tijuana by his father’s army buddy, AKA Uncle Spud, and finds Elvis’ toenail-clipping in the deep shag rug in a room at Graceland.
The overall tone is wry, deadpan and very, very dry – a Candide with more self-awareness. The narrator is an engaging character; as noted, he has consistently awful luck, but bounces back with verve and creativity, never losing sight of his mission and ready to try anything once, or for as long as it will take to get him back on the road. Some of the situations are comic set-pieces, which have turned up before, but they are well-told here … and anyone who has been on a long road trip across the United States – by any means – will recognize not only the places, but the assortment of people inhabiting them. In several ways, this book reminded me of Bill Bryson’s Lost Continent – much the same dry, comic tone, but with a much sweeter understanding of and liking for people.
See Also: Celia's BNN Review