A debut coming-of-age novel examines a young man’s journey through a fantastical afterlife.
Having trained as a chef, though finding little work outside of busing tables at a Celtic-themed restaurant (a place that makes him wear a kilt), 33-year-old Brant decides he needs a break from Southern California. Steering his Cannondale R1000 road bike north, he embarks on an open- air adventure of self-discovery. Or so it would seem, as he dodges traffic in Los Angeles and encounters a beautiful girl with a “genuine smile” in San Clemente. But after his bike is stolen in Santa Cruz, a series of setbacks follows that dampens his spirit. Feeling that all is for naught, Brant decides to commit suicide. Rather than ending his existence, he instead finds himself in a new world. It is in this realm of goblins, vultures, and “cities full of hopeless halfwits” that Brant truly begins his self-discovery. Befriending a minotaur named Gregory, Brant learns that he has entered a mythical afterlife similar to the one imagined by the ancient Greeks. And if he is going to avoid being dragged into Tartarus, a place of utmost sorrow, he will have to fight. Banding together with Gregory and some other good-natured, albeit damned, characters along the way, Brant encounters everything from a giant who keeps a woman in a cage to a deceptively friendly “mer-king” named Paco. Following along on Brant’s quest, the reader meets a variety of wondrous creations. The effect gives Wehde’s story a dreamlike quality that is both expansive and untethered. It is in the untethering that some readers may lose interest. As Brant’s mission develops into finding a figure named Hades (“the master of this realm”), he never seems to be in much of a rush to accomplish this task. He becomes attracted to a certain village where the “vibe was too inviting.” While following vibes may make for a useful strategy at a music festival, it does not always create the most thrilling prose. Nevertheless, readers who relish such distractions in real life may not mind these traits in their protagonists.
Though the pace may prove a little too free-wheeling for some readers, the story explores a mythical world that’s both metaphorical and creative.