Overcome by the monotony of his lackluster life in Kansas City, Mo., Dr. Gregory Barth heads west in Zehr’s debut novel.
When it rains, it pours, and for Gregory Barth, a therapist living life on the straight and narrow, it was pouring. In one day, he was bombarded with stories and images of people throwing life’s rulebook out the window: first his best friend, followed by two patients, and then by the anonymous man commuting from home to office on a motorcycle. Barth’s own story is predictable—a predictability that quickly frustrates the reader as much as it does Barth. He had never deviated from his routine. Even on his vacations, which he spends in town, he visits the office. But, to the narrative’s benefit and his own, Barth finally does something spontaneous: He buys a motorcycle, takes a month off and goes west, where the “air was drier ... the vegetation sparse, and the horizons more distant.” The tone turns desolate and reflective as he passes descansos (roadside memorials) on his journey of self-discovery and rebirth, maneuvering his new vehicle through the scenic West. Estrella, who piques Barth’s interest, is one of many desplazados—meaning those who have been displaced. She survived a traumatic life in Mexico, where the drug world ruled her neighborhood. After crossing the border into El Norte, she now runs a truck stop with her mother and son, Matias, in a small New Mexico town, where she meets Barth. Their connection is magnetic, prompting Barth to prolong his stay. But the West calls to Barth, just as the North called to Estrella. Zehr thoughtfully illustrates each person—Estrella, the other characters Barth meets on his travels and Barth himself—as a desplazado, whether physically or mentally. Barth gleans his own desplazado nature as he realizes he took this trip because of “a yearning to expose himself, in some small measure, to the unknown.”
A story of reawakening and self-acceptance, well worth the trip.