To save their little community, a band of down-and-outers fights city hall in this tale set in a slightly fictionalized version of present-day Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In this novel’s first part, readers meet the characters who inhabit the Bosque community, such as Gerald Matthew Roger “GMR” Whittington, a boy who’s on the run from his mess of a family. Others include Tenn Dortmund, the sage bartender at local watering hole Rip’s; Richard Martin, an alcoholic, poetry-spouting pawnbroker; Helen Parch, a troubled librarian; the Rev. Halvard; kindly bar denizen Red Donnie; and many others. Largely a good-hearted bunch, they all care about GMR and want to keep him safe from his abusive family. They don’t just shelter him, but also try to teach and nurture him—they are that village that it proverbially takes to raise a child. But they’ve not only charged themselves with protecting GMR, but also with saving their own homes and livelihoods. Yet another bridge across the Rio Grande is planned—a bridge that will rip right through the neighborhood. What follows is neighborhood mobilization, bureaucratic tussle and hustle, and anguished questions meeting boilerplate responses. To the author’s great credit, there are no Frank Capra–esque or “Kumbaya” moments here, and midway through the novel, the plot really takes off. Novelist Jones (The Big Wheel, 2015, etc.) knows his bailiwick and its denizens well, and he shows himself to be a skilled and experienced writer. The scenes involving the local bureaucracy are both comic and infuriating; city councilman Benjamin Taylor is a typically smooth bully who has all the urban development arguments down pat. Readers can contrast him with quiet Dortmund, a man whose life might seem wasted, due to alcohol and prison, but who’s learned valuable lessons along the way.
There’s violence, a little hope, and charity to be found in this truly excellent book.