A middle-grade novel concocts a modern tall tale starring a precocious, continent-trotting 12-year-old boy.
Young Ruby Finn Heckler of Hackers Loon, New York, is being interviewed by the FBI. “I don’t know why they gave it to me, just to answer your question right off,” he says, in regard to his odd name. “I never knew my mom and dad—they’re dead—so I couldn’t get the story straight from them.” The trouble started when Ruby’s best friend, Quinn Hennessey, showed him the 22-caliber rifle he had stolen from Old Man Chilson’s shed. When they accidentally shot a deer, they left the corpse at the local Gennelich-owned lumber mill in the hopes that one of the men would take it home. Instead, the scion of the powerful Gennelich family claimed the dead deer was a warning from the Mexican cartels and began to secretly stage other “attacks” to terrify the locals into voting for his preferred candidate. When the man burned down the church and tried to blame it on Muslim terrorists, Ruby—who was in the church moments before—feared he would be held responsible instead. He tried to hide on a bus, fell asleep, and ended up in Albany, and then—well, long story short, the cowboy-loving Ruby and Quinn ended up encountering a man named Douglas “Lodgepole” Pine and his Helical Unfolded militia in the real-life, modern American West. That’s when the real craziness began. Brock’s (Cross Dog Blues, 2015) prose is a perfect blend of Mark Twain-style color undercut by modern humor. When Ruby and Quinn fear they’ve been cursed, they try to buy a potion from the forest-dwelling Widow Jones, who responds to their query with “I’ve told you boys a million times! Do not call me Widow Jones.” But the true brilliance of the author’s pastiche adventure is convincing readers that present-day America—with its extremists, crooks, demagogues, and guns—is just as madcap as the 1870s version. Ruby and Quinn are a Tom and Huck for the 21st century, and through their naive eyes, readers see how absurd the nation has always been.
A shaggy, satirical sendup in the finest American tradition.