AMERICA BY LAND
Olmstead strikes out for parts unknown in his third novel: a road story that carries us deep into the American Southwest and far beyond the velleities of his previous work (A Trail of Heart's Blood Wherever We Go, 1990; Soft Water, 1988). This time around we're introduced to Raymond Romeo Redfield, a college dropout and angry young man who's biking across the country with all the usual confusions. "I was thinking," he declares, "if I could move fast enough, nothing could ever catch up with me, not even time." Actually, he sets out to meet up with his cousin Juliet, now nursing her grief in New Mexico after the successful birth (and subsequent adoption) of her baby girl, and to retrace the steps of a similar wanderjahr taken by his father some four decades back. Redfield's consuming anger at his father's adult compromises does nothing to stultify his maniacal sense of humor, any more than his fractured ribs get in the way of a happy consummation of his affair with Juliet--but these liabilities do provide some background tension and raise the moral stakes of the story. The novel forsakes none of the backwoods squalor that Olmstead has traded on in the past, but it manages all the same to unfold the inner lives of Redfield and Juliet with a quiet intimacy that's remarkable--and remarkably sincere. Up to now, Olmstead has displayed an unfortunate submission to the prevailing taste for lurid understatement: the obvious (and ultimately rather patronizing) attempt to engage the reader's attention by means of a narrative that does not respond in any plausible way to the events that it describes. Here, he seems to have placed more trust in his innate sense of propriety and equilibrium, and the result is far richer and more assured. Very fine and real: a moving portrait of the heart's own sojourn.