The destinies of a man with a brain tumor, a gambler, a pimp, and a Native American teenager converge on the Grand Canyon in this debut novel.
Struggling with a dying marriage, unsuccessful career, and the recent diagnosis of a brain tumor, business traveler Raymond “Ray” Leonard finds himself disembarking with other passengers in Las Vegas instead of continuing to Los Angeles. As a child, Ray had a near-death experience falling from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, a terrifying event that now seems to call to him. To hike into a remote part of the canyon, he’ll need money; luckily, he hits it off with gambler/sometime prostitute Antoinette Polasek, called Annie. They work together to parlay their cash into a tidy sum at the casinos, becoming close in the process. Annie is being harassed by Winston Culpepper, a strong-arming pimp. Ray and Johnny Valentine (Annie’s protective older neighbor) drive him off but don’t kill him, a lapse that leads to greater destruction down the road. Ray heads off to the Grand Canyon, where a 15-year-old Native American, Augustine Watahomigie, is on a power quest. His grandfather, a noted healer, wants him to learn more of the old ways, which appeals to Augustine despite his other ambition: becoming a rapper. Unknown to Ray, Culpepper is after him, using Annie and her disabled younger sister as leverage. With all their paths leading to the canyon, tragedy ensues and lives are changed. In his novel, Pounds might be accused of relying on two overused tropes, in which less-powerful characters—here, a good-hearted gambler/occasional sex worker and some Native Americans—come to the rescue of a needy white man. Augustine is mystically called to help Ray, for example, but why he especially deserves this isn’t clear. That said, the author takes the trouble to develop backstories and point-of-view sections for his nonwhite, non-male characters, which makes them more three-dimensional. Ray, too, gains gravitas in his struggles to come to terms with his mortality, giving the book an uplifting ending. In addition, the plot is well paced and the locations are vividly described.
A solid man-at-a-crossroads story.