Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fiction Review: Roastbeef’s Promise

As I may have mentioned once or twice here before, I love road trips, and I love reading books about road trips.  Reading a road trip book while on a road trip vacation is bliss!  I recently enjoyed a new road trip novel, Roastbeef’s Promise by first-time novelist David Jerome, while traveling through eight states on our spring break trip to Lousiana and back.

Roastbeef’s Promise begins with an interesting and unusual premise.  A young man who is still known by his childhood nickname Roastbeef pledges to carry out his father’s dying wish to have his ashes scattered in all 48 contiguous states.  He leaves his parents’ deserted house shortly after his father’s funeral:

The night before I left on the trip, my high-school lacrosse buddies threw me a going-away party.  They bought a keg of beer and we played numerous drinking games on the kitchen table.  Mildly hungover the next morning, I loaded up the Hyundai that dad had purchased for me two years earlier in Washington at an embassy surplus sale.  The car had previously been owned by the African nation of Chad and driven by their diplomat’s errand boy.  The car still had diplomatic license plates, which allowed me to park anywhere I damn well pleased.  I strapped Dad’s urn containing three-fifths of his remains into the front passenger seat.  Before I pulled out of the driveway, I took a spoonful of the ashes and sprinkled them on the front lawn of the house I had shared with Dad for eight years.

“One down, forty-seven to go,” I said to myself, as I shaded in the state of Maryland on the map I carried to show the trip’s progress.

In his old car with little money and no cell phone, Roastbeef is not very well-prepared for such a lengthy journey, but he’s got a good attitude and a sense of adventure that will both come in handy.  His road trip has little in common with our annual cross-country vacations, but it’s an entertaining ride for the reader. 

Before the journey ends, Roastbeef has plenty of adventures and meets all sorts of interesting people.  He rides in a crop duster, witnesses the wedding of a very pregnant bride in Las Vegas, and pretends to be the boyfriend of a lesbian.  Some states he barely sets foot in and others he stays for an extended period, sometimes to work at (very) odd jobs to earn some money, once to recover from a punctured lung, and once to spend a little time in an Iowa prison.  He drives, takes buses, hitchhikes, and even rides a moped long distances.

Jerome writes with a healthy dose of humor and a taste for the absurd, and I often laughed out loud while reading this book.  In fact, Roastbeef’s Promise won a National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA) for Humor.  It’s a fun and amusing journey for the reader with a fascinating look at the wonderful variety of our great nation (though Roastbeef’s glimpse of some of the states is extremely limited).  It’s an enjoyable ride, even if you read it at home rather than on the road.

301 pages, Smack Books

NOTE:  Another of my favorite road trip novels is Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo, which entails an amusing cross-country journey which is both physical and spiritual.