Rosson (The Mercy of the Tide, 2017) presents a surreal road novel about misfits on a journey to Southern California.
Mike Vale is a Portland, Oregon–based artist who once sold his paintings for incredible sums before his career and personal life took nose dives. Now he’s a raging alcoholic who hasn’t painted in years. He has a job at a fast-food restaurant but gets fired for assaulting a customer. Then Mike finds out that his ex-wife has died suddenly of an apparent brain hemorrhage, and he vows to make it to Los Angeles for the funeral, through hell or high water. Mike sells the last painting he can, secures a used 1998 Chrysler minivan, and hits the road. On his way south, he picks up a one-eyed record-store owner named Marvin Deitz who insists that he’s the reincarnation of Geoffroy Thérage, the executioner responsible for lighting the pyre that killed Joan of Arc. Later, he picks up a young man, aptly named Casper, who wants to create a reality show about ghosts. The kicker is that ghosts—sometimes referred to as “smokes”—have been appearing all over, particularly in California; their sudden appearances have caused traffic accidents and other problems, so they’re monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What will befall the heroes as they venture to LA under such circumstances? Rosson tells a tale of peculiar men living in a peculiar time, and the narrative easily moves them along their way. The author weaves events from Mike’s and Marvin’s pasts into the story to create a truly strange, though never unbelievable, journey. The very different backgrounds of the men in the van also allow for comedy, as when Mike attempts to explain why Casper’s T-shirt’s image of a bald eagle driving a truck and holding a beer is “ironic.” Rosson provides potent descriptions, such as of police lights that are “robbed of their power in the light of day.” Although the novel’s conclusion may reek of Hollywood-style happiness, the destination is secondary to the journey.
An offbeat, strangely satisfying adventure through a land full of (literal) ghosts.