In Beshid’s debut novel set in mid-1990s Los Angeles, a minimalist poet tries to find love with a junk-collecting artist.
Rootless military brat Henry David Kieller was named for Thoreau (his hippie mother was a fan), and one of his few possessions is a dog-eared copy of Walden. Like his namesake, Henry has pared down his life to the essentials. He makes a living as a professional house-sitter, so he doesn’t need to pay rent, and although he raises money for his father’s charitable foundation, he donates back almost all his salary. In car-worshipping Los Angeles, he rides the bus. His poetry, too, is minimalist—the three lines and 17 syllables of haiku. When Henry’s barber/spiritual advisor, Ken, introduces him to Maggie, an artist, the mutual attraction is immediate; not only is she “independent, attractive, funny, bright, and creative,” she also has “the Ken seal of approval.” But she’s also, Henry discovers, somewhat of a hoarder who lives in a “cavernous warehouse” stuffed with “tractor tires, baseball bats, broken dishes, books, lamps, old clothes, car parts, the wooden frame of a couch, bicycle parts, salvaged doors, a barrel full of puzzle pieces” and much, much more. For Maggie, these are possible art projects; for Henry, it’s his “worst nightmare”—and that’s before Maggie asks him to move in. Henry has to figure out whether it’s worth giving up some of his freedom to make a home with Maggie. Beshid displays a nice touch with his narrator, who can be priggish, critical and more adolescent than his 30 years would suggest. His flirtations with Maggie—“I have some universal truths I would like share. I can also offer poetry lessons”—can sound insufferable, but he’s also affectionate, funny and insightful. Henry’s love for father-figure Ken does much to balance his didacticism, too. Henry’s discomfort with the realistically portrayed business side of selling paintings also makes for an interesting conflict that helps develop his relationship with Maggie.
A believable, likable and well-balanced story about putting down roots while staying true to oneself.