FINDING SIGNS by Sharlene Baker


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More than once in this engaging first novel, Baker pays homage to her spiritual mentor Jack Kerouac, whose celebrations of the open road provide a model for Bakers own shaggy search for America. Wisely, Baker doesn't imitate Kerouac's often incoherent ""bop"" prose style, and instead fuels her fictional travelogue with plain-speaking and narrative vigor. Baker warns us early on that her quest for love and adventure, set in the mid-70's, is open-ended, taking its structure from a series of haphazard events, which together don't add up to much. But they aren't supposed to. As much as Brenda Bradshaw's travels cross-country prove life-affirming, they're full of false starts and dead-ends. Twenty-three and carefree, Brenda wants to visit the possible ""love of her life"" in Spokane. But her trip from San Diego to Washington State veers east to Arizona, then north as far as Seattle, back to S. Cal., east to Boston, back west to Reno, and then, Finally, to Spokane, where she's a month or so too late. Along the way, Brenda earns money working construction, placing bets at the race track for her brother, picking apples, and hauling poinsettias from San Francisco to Seattle. Life on the road as a hitchhiker has its own routine: bathing in bathroom sinks at truck-stops; sleeping under the stars by the roadside; pumping caffeine through the veins for alertness. The benevolent drivers include some college kids who have her crash a wedding reception; an AWOL Marine headed in the wrong direction home; and a quiet and friendly fellow named David, who shares her awe of nature and respects her wanderlust The one constant in Brenda's itinerant life in her brother Will, a Vietnam vet haunted by the death of his best friend. And even though Brenda doesn't Fred true love by the end of the novel, it seems Will has, giving her sufficient peace of mind to pick up her backpack and hit the road again. An exuberant debut that rolls along on charm and a distinct lack of pretension.

Pub Date: April 12th, 1990
Publisher: Knopf