THE BADLANDS SALOON by Jonathan Twingley


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Professional illustrator Twingley’s first novel tells how an aspiring illustrator spends his summer vacation.

As well as providing the striking cover art, the author festoons his story with drawings of his characters; at one point, they fill eight consecutive pages. Angular and idiosyncratic, they form a vivid contrast to Twingley’s bland prose. After his first year in a graduate program at a New York City art school, narrator Ollie Clay returns to his home state of North Dakota to regroup. The small tourist town of Marysville suits him fine. His friend Tank Wilson has a bike shop there. Ollie will help out and escort riders through the Badlands; Tank’s uncle has a vacant trailer where he can stay. Business is so slow that Ollie feels “like a mannequin in a storefront window.” He spends most of his time hanging out at the eponymous Saloon, “the beating heart of Marysville.” An innocent mama’s boy, Ollie experiences his first bender and his first joint while observing the saloon’s regulars. They include Willie Beck, a spastic old guy who’s the life of the party; the 300-pound Big Man, a biker writing a Hemingway-esque novel; an ancient bank clerk in her feather boa…gee, what a crazy bunch! Also hanging around is Lacy, a Native American free spirit and Tank’s on-again, off-again girlfriend with whom, inevitably, Ollie will have his first tryst. So does Ollie come of age? Not quite. He registers the alcoholism of Willie and Tank but doesn’t pursue its meaning. His break with Tank, which leaves him jobless and homeless, goes for nothing, and his slim epiphany that adults don’t know what it all means falls short of an acknowledgement that small-town life has its darker, imprisoning aspects.

Slight and superficial, with no real connection between Ollie and the other characters.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-4165-8706-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2009