Memories of a boyhood spent among the beaten-down boarders who drifted through his family’s hotel in a rural Idaho town.
Since 1919, the three-story brick hotel, complete with café and bar, has anchored downtown Soda Springs, the prosperity of which has always been tied to the notorious vicissitudes of mining, farming and ranching. Schrand’s family had the misfortune of running the hotel during a period of decline—the author’s grandparents purchased the property in 1975 for $250,000 and sold it in 1992 for $85,000—when the once-grand edifice required as much repair as its motley patrons. Schrand (Creative Writing/Univ. of Idaho) sprinkles portraits of these folks—“Kid” Barger, a once famous boxer; Maya, an artist and recovering alcoholic; Vic, the ex-con; Trapper Jim, who scrounged the hotel alleyway for bait; Larry, who shot and killed his best friend—throughout the narrative. For a young child, the hotel exerted a certain kind of magic, which Schrand effectively captures in his reminiscences: exploring the vast basement with its collection of abandoned suitcases; sitting at a stool in the café eating burgers and sodas; anticipating the extra excitement that came with hunting season; building a clubhouse near the geyser out back; constructing a raft to “escape” from Soda Springs. Holding the enterprise—and to a large extent, young Schrand’s life—together were his grandparents, whose charity and decency reassured a boy who never knew his father. As Schrand grew older, work and responsibilities mounted, as did the feeling that the hotel might be a failing venture. He worked out his resentment and anger in acts of gratuitous cruelty and petty vandalism that threatened to mark him for a future not so different from the dead-enders the hotel often sheltered.
An evocative account of a man coming to terms with his youth.