Monday, January 4, 2016

Breaking Solitude: The Never-Open Desert Diner a novel by James Anderson

The Never-Open Desert Diner is a good first novel by James Anderson. I like stories of characters conscious of their solitude and thinking about it without running away. Ben Jones is a truck driver in Utah, driving a route that is a day’s journey out and back in a sparsely inhabited stretch of desert. State Road 117 has some turnouts, byways, and an end point with relatively little traffic. He is not fully committed to his solitude as are many OTR truck drivers, but he spends much of every day in solitude. Ben’s past is kept in the background with interesting hints of a much more social and personally risky life left behind.

Time elapses slowly as Ben delivers goods to individuals and small businesses in the vast desert along 117. Ben has relationships with his isolated customers bound by individual rules of privacy learned over time. One of the toughest set of rules is enforced by a 79 year old customer Walt Butterfield, owner of the Desert Diner on US 191. Walt keeps the diner in perfect condition inside and out but does not discuss with Ben why it is never open for business.

This is a great start for a novel, and I looked forward to each chapter. Then, everything changes when Ben’s schedule is interrupted by unexpected events that break the rules of solitude. Changes are the life blood of a novel of character solitude, and nothing lasts forever but the peaceful/violent desert in this novel.

The problem with Anderson’s novel is the relationship and dialogue between Ben and a character new to the desert. It is interesting at the first encounter, but become far too fast-paced, artificially intimate, and symbolic to be believable or consistent with the theme of solitude. Ben and the new resident of the desert off State Road 117 begin to converse in code revealing that they are sudden soul mates existing in a higher plane of empathetic consciousness. After this break in the flow of the novel, there were interesting exciting scenes and good character development, but my keen interest in the story waned. I recommend the novel with my reservations noted.

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