A meth addict itching to go straight gets sidetracked in the Southwest in this tough-talking debut.
When we first meet Frank, the narrator of Rudolph’s first novel, he’s carrying a steamer trunk’s worth of baggage. He’s a middle-aged man making a good faith effort to quit speed, but his young girlfriend, Maddie, is still using. Frank is trying to help Maddie as well as his junkie friend Ben, who wants to run from Colorado to Mexico with his son, Sean. But when Ben is separated from the group, Frank is left with even more baggage, as well as the wrath of Ben's father, a casino mogul with underworld connections. In other words, Rudolph means to stress that hard-luck people can be as hard to quit as hard drugs, and the tone the author gives Frank is appealingly flinty and worn. (“Something scratched at my heart like fishhooks on a tin can.”) As the title suggests, Frank drives through four Southwest desert states over the course of the novel, but the strongest scenes are the ones in which he’s forced to stay put in a Phoenix jail, where he suffers a stroke; his flashbacks to his past as a dealer and user, along with his interactions with nurses and guards, put some fresh air into the story, allowing Rudolph to write about consequences and addiction without greeting-card sanctimony. The novel is structured like a thriller, but Rudolph makes a few rookie errors: Frank is carefully rendered, but the side characters are thinner, the web of interactions becomes overly convoluted, and the gunplay in the closing chapters feels stock. The strength of Frank’s voice compensates for the flaws, though, recalling down-and-out tales like Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling or Daniel Woodrell’s Give Us a Kiss.
A familiar noirish plot enlivened by its no-nonsense, rough-living narrator.