“Once, during one of our roadside smokes, the reverend had said that most people associate the desert with what is missing–water and people. “They never think of the one thing the desert has more of–light,” he said.”
Deserts. Places of heat and light. Of magic and mystery. Of the will to live. In The Never-Open Desert Diner, James Anderson brings the desert to life like never before.
Ben Jones is a trucker who operates on Route 117, an isolated road somewhere in the remote recesses of the Utah desert, delivering what the few residents of the desert need. Ben has a soft corner for these tough people. One of these people is the grumpy Walt, owner of a once (relatively) popular diner with a tragic past, now closed down and nick named “the never-open desert diner”. Deep in debt, he may soon lose this life he has grown to love so much. Until, on one of his runs he runs across a mysterious woman named Claire, who is hiding in the desert from someone or something. Intrigued by this woman, Ben attempts to get to know her better, sparking a chain of events that changes his life.
On reading the description for the book, I didn’t think I would enjoy it much. However, the book turned out to be different from what I thought it would be. Where I expected a typical action-oriented thriller, I found a fresh, lyrical narrative.
This is not to say that there is no “action’. Just that instead of blazing guns and crazy car chases across the desert landscape (which I wouldn’t have liked) I got action on a human, psychological level. It is the people and their relationships with each other and the desert that makes the fabric of this novel. This is probably not the book to pick up if one wants a fast-paced thriller, but is perfect for someone looking for a slower but dramatic book.
There is a beautiful earthiness to Anderson’s writing. It manages to be poetic without being flowery, rich while remaining simple. I could feel the burning sun on my skin, see the wondrous sunset in the desert and taste the butter brickle ice-cream that his characters seem to prefer. So vivid and detailed are Anderson’s descriptions.
The highlight of the book is the experience of the desert. Anderson manages to create a sense of calm, an almost meditative atmosphere of the desert.In describing life and survival in this harsh place, he finds the kindness in the cruelty of its landscape.
The characters are memorable and well-rounded, each with a back story that elicits the reader’s empathy. I got the feeling that I know these people and would recognize them if I met them.
Like the desert itself, the beauty of The Never-Open Desert Diner is a new and wonderful thing, best experienced first hand. For those who can appreciate the abundance of light in the desert, this is an excellent read.
FTC disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.