Grim debut novel by heralded memoirist Land (Goat, 2004) imagines the peripatetic, deeply hopeless life of a motherless boy in 1980s South Carolina.
Terry Webber has just started high school in the dead-end town of Issaqueena, where his widowed father works in a textile factory. Terry, who already smokes and drinks, gets into plenty of trouble at school. Issaqueena is a place where a kid like gifted, screwed-up Basil Frick blows out his brains from a sense of nameless despair. Terry meets another drifting loner, Alice Washington, who understands his need to keep a dead bird in his bag for days so he can give it a suitable burial. Alice claims she was born in the backseat of a Mustang and pines for her sister Nora, living in a commune near Boulder, Colo. When Alice is killed in a car accident as she and Terry are fleeing town for good, the boy is stunned into returning home. His increasingly distant father decides they have to move yet again in order for him to find work. In Gaston, another small town, Terry fends for himself at a tough school but manages to get on the soccer team and befriend a group of trouble-hungry freaks. Over an April weekend, his friend Noah’s mother rents a house for them on the beach, and Terry loses his virginity there to a young woman with a jealous, menacing boyfriend. This prompts him to head out for Colorado to find Alice’s sister and claim his redemption. Told in short episodes, Land’s narrative contains moments of quietly acute observation rendered in flat, uninflected prose.
The hero’s resigned expectation that soon enough he will be an old man like his dad—“alone, watching others, waiting on someone to come who never would”—bleeds onto the page and infects the reader with a terrible, mortal fatigue.