Eight tales of youthful heartache and road-trip escapades from the Michigan rapper, filmmaker and creator of Found (www.foundmagazine.com).
The young male narrators in this spare, somber debut collection are restless, unsettled and often from sticky home situations. The teenager who narrates “Maggie Fever” is sent to live with his grandfather in Albuquerque, “a weird and scary dude” who makes his living collecting rented carts from the airport and who cherishes his sick cat, Gilbert. When Gilbert requires an expensive operation, Grandpa suggests a scheme of stealing people’s luggage and the boy finds some friendly solace reading the diary of the owner (Maggie) of the backpack he swipes. The title story concerns a couple of road-trippers speeding across Kansas. They come upon a boy named Kyle, who has taught himself to surf, implausibly, in the cornfields. Provoking a shootout with the town cop on their way to take Kyle to the hospital to set his broken arm, the narrator and his on-again-off-again girlfriend learn the sad, hopeless story of Kyle’s sick sister, and the narrator seizes the “bleak revelation—Kyle would never get to the ocean.” Indeed, these characters are stuck for good where they are, like the members of the road gang, prisoners of Galloway Lake Detention Center, who make the lone, weak black man, Maurice, the butt of their vicious jokes. When Maurice’s own sorrow finally surfaces, the men explode in their anger and desperation and beat him horribly: “ . . . the madness of it brought great wild smiles to our faces.” The young narrator of “Elena,” looking for work, seeks “a good situation” across the border in Juarez helping coyotes enlist truck drivers to carry stowaways. The work turns ugly (how can he imagine otherwise?), and even the one redemptive note, his love for the teenage prostitute Elena, can’t alter the persistent corrosion of poverty and ignorance. Other stories are occasionally sophomoric in their handling, but, overall, Rothbart writes with control, precision and compassion.
A storyteller mastering his craft.