A rootless carpenter searches for home in Bojanowksi’s second novel (The Dog Fighter, 2004).
After witnessing a serious accident on the job, journeyman carpenter Nolan Jackson ditches Las Vegas, leaving behind a promising, if casual, relationship with dental hygiene student Linda, to head west. A second accident—this one involving his Airstream trailer—forces Nolan, 31, to take up residence with his semiestranged older brother, Chance, now living beyond his means in a small town in Sonoma County. Whereas Nolan is a stoic (and serial) wanderer in a Western hat, his disheveled brother is a conspiracy-minded journalist who has long operated under the name Cosmo Swift. Cosmo, it’s quickly apparent, is losing it: his wife has left him, and he spends his days hammering away on his computer, “extrapolating the geopolitical ramifications of an obscure naval battle” between Russia and Japan in 1905. Meanwhile, someone has taken to burning down old houses in the town, and Nolan worries Cosmo may have something to do with it. Bojanowski aims high here. The story is set in 2007, during the U.S.’s dual engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Nolan’s decision not to enlist, despite his father’s service in Vietnam, weighs heavily on him. A bevy of well-rendered secondary characters brings humor and heart to the proceedings. Ultimately, though, the parts here don’t add up to a satisfying whole. While Nolan makes a fine protagonist, Cosmo is allowed too much real estate to ramble, and Linda, given her ultimate significance to the plot, is underwritten. Meanwhile, the ending may strike readers as too tidy, a maudlin coda to a story that is otherwise admirably complex.
Bojanowski’s novel is layered and thoughtful but aspires to heights it doesn’t quite reach.