An adventure tale charts the spiritual and personal evolution of an uneasy former engineer.
Kleinke’s (Catching Babies, 2011, etc.) novel centers on the wanderlust plaguing a man who, at 37, flees “the steady grind of a corporate job Back East to the wild blur of the mountains Out West” to embrace his love of the outdoors. After the company he works for is sold and he ends his nine-year marriage, Jack moves west to realize his dream of living on his own in nature: “No wife, no job, no kids, no worries, just me, the earth, the sky, and time.” He settles in Dudeville, a Colorado ski town that he was introduced to through friends. As Jack crests numerous mountaintops, Kleinke writes compassionately and poetically about his protagonist’s uncanny detection of a spiritual presence guiding him, an “unnamed and unfiltered, indescribable but unmistakable” deity embodying the euphoric feeling of freedom in nature. Other characters drift in and out of Jack’s orbit, including Jill, his sometime girlfriend, and climbing pal Danny, while the scenery oscillates from snowboarding on the ski slopes and ascending mountains to facing the melodrama of Dudeville’s hangout bar. Kleinke fleshes out Jack’s character with memories of his bruised childhood at the hands of a drunken father and a mother hobbled by debilitating pain. Yet the author leavens this with episodes involving jam bands, a pack of wolves, pot smoking and Ecstasy, sex, and plenty of free-flowing, “dude”-laden dialogue, which all blurs together as the narrative ebbs and flows. The gang scales the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada and moves across the Arizona desert canyons and the scorched Wyoming plains, inviting further spiritual awakenings and opportunities for reflection and inner healing for Jack. But it will be the interpersonal swirl of youthful histrionics, beer gulping, and high-fives that will keep readers who enjoy the lighter side of Kleinke’s bro-fiction entertained. Nature lovers and adventure travelers will certainly appreciate the author’s lush, descriptive prose and vivid action scenes, most notably when focused on Jack’s love of the natural world, his aloneness within it, and the breathless beauty surrounding him when atop a mountain glazed in snow and dazzling sunlight. His restlessness resumes by the story’s conclusion, leaving the engine running for further possible escapades on the slopes and beyond.
A vibrant, creative, youthful yarn about personal freedom and self-discovery played out against an American West backdrop.