In Smith’s debut novel, a reformed hippie hits the road one final time in a quest to find his runaway son, and along the way, he finds himself.
Jerry knew he’d hit rock bottom when he drove his Cadillac into San Francisco Bay 10 years before. A lifetime of booze and drugs had finally taken its toll. Although he’s now clean and helping others who have gone down some of life’s darker paths, Jerry is haunted by the fact that his son, Ethan, ran away. Ethan and his mom aren’t the only people Jerry has lost, however; in a very real sense, he’s also lost himself. Plagued by a selective amnesia after his plunge into the bay, he doesn’t even remember his own name, but he’s committed to righting his life’s wrongs. His first step is to track down Ethan, against the advice of his friend, sobriety mentor and dharmic guide Mahatma (“You no ready,” he says). Along the way, Jerry befriends uptight Talia and her daughter, Lily, a runaway like Ethan. Lily is committed to living on the road with her boyfriend, Max, a wannabe messianic figure who dreams of escaping the strictures of society (and the law) in the Canadian Rockies, but she begrudgingly allows her mother to follow their latter-day hippie caravan, so long as Talia travels with Jerry. It’s an imperfect but beneficial arrangement: Talia can keep an eye on her daughter, while all three of them search for Ethan. Although the novel’s stakes are high, this is a quiet read, deeply focused on the inner journey of its protagonist. Smith does a commendable job drawing on California’s quixotic beauty to limn the subtle shifts in Jerry’s struggle with sobriety and grief (“Jerry sat on the grassy knoll, watching the crab fishers stringing nets out on the pier. A thin sheet of clouds swept past the bridge, blurring the crisp lines of the cables”). Likewise, as Jerry’s fragmented memory begins to coalesce around one horrifying realization, Smith’s controlled prose keeps the tension tight. It’s Talia that gets to sum up the novel’s thesis, though, when she confronts Jerry at his lowest point: “This trip,” she says, “if it’s about anything it’s about not running away.”
An engaging novel about one man’s road trip to the heart of darkness: himself.