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AMERICAN INFERNO by Bret Lowery Kirkus Star


by Bret Lowery

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2011
ISBN: 978-1456575274
Publisher: CreateSpace

A crazy, wild journey up an Appalachian Trail paved with the stones of a philosophical quest.

Lowery totes plenty of baggage on this walk from Georgia to Maine—Dante as his guide, with a soupcon of Pynchon, a nod to the pre-Socratics, Basho, Robert Frost, Shakespeare, Whitman and others, making the work akin to The River Why and Golf In the Kingdom. But, delightfully, the end product is Lowery’s very own. Dr. Durant Allegheny—could it be his real name? perception is the crux here—has hit the trail into the wild, looking for surcease from a life gone sour, or at least for his soul. He travels with Virgil, a runic, mostly monosyllabic, guilelessly endearing character. Early on they meet Padma, a virtuous pagan (or is it God or the Devil?) who bestows upon them a gift—guides to map the pair’s way forward. These guides prove to be incandescent trials-by-fire, as is negotiating Lowery’s writing—dense, probing, elegiac and as sinuous as the trail it charts, then becoming clear as a view from a summit. There is caterwauling, the swift transformation of emotions, psychotropic episodes, condemnations and deep investigations into decency and humanity, backlit by some of the ugliest company the Devil could throw at you. Though moving steadily northward, Durant spirals through confrontations with the curse of fear, greed (“We’re all petty and selfish and primitive Baptists.”), God (“Maybe it wasn’t over, maybe God was still evolving, maybe God would change. Which made for a really terrifying thought.”), truth, justice, love, pride and choice. Allegheny finds a girl, too; Beelzebub, by name, who advises against his “intellectually-fueled avoidance of reality.” Lurking amid the intellectual fuel are lovely descriptions of places—the rhododendrons and trillium of springtime Tennessee; or his maelstrom “of the dead, the Mistress, the Amarita, the cognitive dissonances, the Atlantean inkblots”—and utterly winning, joyful talk about camping equipment; the real Lowery as innocent, enthusiastic hiker abroad on the land.

Deserves to be a cult classic.