In Smith’s debut novel, an alcoholic wanderer searches for a better life in a small skiing town.
Buck Avery arrives in Huntington Pass with no real plans, but he knows his life is about to change for the better. With a bit of money, a pair of skis and a unicycle, he’s on the hunt for a new life and, more importantly, the local bars. Unable to secure a job as a ski instructor, he succeeds in finding work cleaning a local restaurant in exchange for one meal a day. There, he meets Marie, a foulmouthed waitress he instantly falls in love with. After blowing what little money he has on a season-long ski pass, he lives on handfuls of quarters, crackers taken from the ski lodge and his favorite Utica Club beer. Buck’s life is precarious, but he’s never been happier. The novel follows Buck as he stumbles through life with a sometimes jarring present-tense, first-person narrative. With no quotation marks to differentiate between Buck’s internal monologue and outward speech, the reader is left feeling confused and trapped in his rather odd mind. Smith succeeds in creating a unique if unlikable character—a unicycle-riding, ski-obsessed, Kerouac-reading drunk. Crass, slightly unhinged and yearning for a way to be remembered, Buck fancies himself a great author and writes his first novel on a series of napkins, which he then transcribes onto the stall doors of men’s bathrooms all around town. The novel is raw, with beautiful glimpses of human emotion unencumbered by overworked sentiment. It’s difficult not to admire Buck’s sense of wonder and optimism in the midst of a seemingly bleak existence. However, the rambling narrative seems to go nowhere, and Buck’s drunken antics and lack of real purpose are tiresome and somewhat overdone.
Endearing, but unfocused and bizarre—just like Buck.