In this comic novel, a librarian searches for the potential love of his life while on a cross-country road trip.
After years of loneliness, Dennis Dunkle reluctantly joins the dating site Amorous After Fifty to look for love. There, he gets pinged by Denise Dunedin, “only because she was also from Saint Plato—although not the New Jersey Saint Plato where Dennis has spent most of his life but the North Dakota one, a place he hadn’t heard of since grade school, when fourth-graders in the two Saint Platos wrote letters back and forth.” But it isn’t long before Dennis realizes that Denise is the woman he’s meant to spend the rest of his life with. That’s why, when she invites him to come live with her and her cat, Tuffy, in North Dakota, he abruptly quits his job as the librarian at Saint Plato Community College; packs his own cat, Sebastian, into his weathered Chrysler Cruiser; straps a toilet to the roof (Denise’s is broken); and heads out on a hastily planned road trip across the continent. When he reaches North Dakota, however, he finds a note saying that Denise has run off with another man—a man from Saint Plato, Alabama. After spending a night in her house, Dennis gets a call from Denise asking him to meet her in that third Saint Plato. She made a mistake, she claims, and she’s willing to marry Dennis if he just comes to Alabama. Dennis does and is informed that he’s just missed her. There’s another clue left for him, another promise, another destination—but as Dennis quickly learns, actually getting to Denise is much harder than driving to any one point on the map.
Simms’ (The Stars of Axuncanny, 2006) rapid prose is full of detail and cartoonish humor, as when Dennis remembers how his mother despised him and his affection for felines: “The more she hated cats, the more she hated Dennis, although she already hated him a lot. She tried to poison him once, he was three, but the hot dog smelled funny to him. New type of hot dog. Eat! she demanded.” There’s a bit of 1990s nihilism underwriting the book’s worldview, but it never gets too desperate or ceases with the one-liners. The novel’s premise is unbelievable and yet also completely tenable given the slanted logic of the world the author creates. Real human relationships have the same push and pull as Dennis and Denise’s, even if they usually don’t require so many road trips, and it’s fairly easy to sympathize with the protagonist’s quixotic mission. Even Denise manages to feel less like a villain than an intriguing mystery caught up in her own equally quixotic whirlwind. The story becomes progressively weirder without losing its buoyant tone, and despite the satirical edge, readers should come to truly care for Dennis and wish him success in his quest.
A short, funny, and oddly engrossing tale about a man looking for a woman.