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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Review: The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas, Stories by Davy Rothbart

Are we there yet?

"The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas (2005, Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone Books, New York, New York, $12 paperback) by Davy Rothbart

Davy Rothbart's “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas” stories are snapshots from road trips and collages cooked up from scraps of paper found on thrift-store bulletin boards and gas station restrooms.

Much like the lost, discarded and forgotten items Rothbart collected in his book, “Found,” the stories in “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas” capture the exotic in the mundane – the treasure in the trash. In these stories there are small towns populated by ersatz heroes and thugs with hearts of gold. There are cruelties. There is grace.

The first story, “Lie Big,” is promising. “Hey,” you think – “this guy is good.” The story of Mitey-Mike unreels like a good fish story and makes a filling meal of the old chestnut “everything I say is a lie.”

It’s like coming along while your younger buddy makes their first trip around the block. You know what’s coming before they do and no matter what happens you let them think it was all their idea.

Nearly every story is about a girl. His main characters – boys all -- watch these women while they sleep. These boys yearn for them, fight over them and agonize over this or that next move. One character leaves his cherished girl-child behind yet doesn’t seem to even get it when she chooses not to be rescued when he returns much too late.

The stories are an unwieldy mishmash of sentiment. Rothbart doesn’t have the maturity to get past the exotic otherness and capture the person or move out from characters and find the resonate meaning of the story.

Rothbart has garnered some decent praise for this second book. There’s a quote from Arthur Miller, ("Davy writes with his whole heart. These stories are crushing."), and kid lit lion Judy Blume ("It's always exciting to discover a talented new writer. Davy Rothbart writes with such energy, wit, and heart.")

"I believe in Davy. He is a force to be reckoned with," writes Ira Glass, host of public radio's This American Life.

It’s safe to say that Rothbart will be – in time and with a lot more living under his belt -- a force to be reckoned with.

What separates good fiction from great fiction is the ability to not only tell the story but find the story’s rhyme and reason and let the reader in on the big picture. Every once in a while it’s entertaining to go on a ride without expectations of destinations. But when we set out on a journey that takes us through the landscape of humanity with a final objective in mind we know we’ve read something great.

We’re not quite there yet.

For more information, visit http://www.simonsays.com.


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