“We are the trouble we seek,” says Ben Jones, the half-Jewish, half–Native American trucker who narrates this book. That seems especially true of the lost souls traversing the bleak landscape of this harrowing, dryly antic novel.
If it’s possible for a stretch of state highway to be a heartbreak house with asphalt and white lines, then Utah’s Route 117, as depicted in this moody, antic thriller, certainly qualifies. Among the more heartbroken of its transient regulars is Ben, who, as this novel begins, is still working his way through the savagely jolting and deadly events chronicled in Anderson’s debut, The Never-Open Desert Diner (2016). With another harsh winter creeping up on the high desert, Ben is even deeper into his routine of delivering necessities to those living along the highway—but he can’t fill his gas tank without trouble finding him. In this case, it’s a child and an “indeterminate mix of husky and German shepherd” abandoned at a truck stop with a note begging him to take care of what’s eventually identified as a little girl. Ben doesn’t get very far in the swirling snow and high winds with his new passengers before another tractor-trailer truck nearly runs him off the highway. And that’s only the beginning of Ben’s bad week, during which he’s enmeshed in the messy lives of friends like Ginny, the red-and-purple–haired Walmart clerk and college student who implores him to add her infant to his passenger list, and John, the itinerant preacher whose ritual of carrying a large wooden cross along the highway isn’t stopped by inclement weather—until a hit-and-run driver slams him to death’s door. In addition to these and other myriad perils, there’s a trigger-happy convenience-store clerk, a mysterious circus truck, and, lurking in the distance, the surly, enigmatic Walt, who owns and occupies the vacant diner that haunts Ben’s crowded memories.
At times, Anderson seems to take on more than he can chew, but the narrator's dolefully observant and engagingly self-deprecating voice holds together this cluttered tale.