Friday, August 26, 2016
Review of Roadside Bodhisattva by Paul Di Filippo
An appropriate point, the novel opens with a hitchhiker being dropped in the middle of nowhere by a yuppie more concerned about his house getting robbed than he is of getting any gas money for the ride. After walking a few miles on the desolate country road, the hitchhiker, a sixteen year old runaway, encounters a grungy but savvy elderly man camped beneath a tree. The man named Sid and the young man not wanting to give his name becoming Kid A, the two strike up a conversation and have a meal as the sun sets. Forming an awkward partnership the next morning, the pair continue down the road looking for breakfast, and find a lonely countryside diner cum motel. Little do the duo know of the people and life which wait inside.
The majority of Roadside Bodhisattva occurring at the motel-diner, Sid and Kid A become acquainted with the various employees there. Ysabelle and her personality issues dealing with her mother's illness and short-lived career as a porn-star. Angie the mechanic carrying a boatload of repressed angst. Louis the stuttering cook who lives with his controlling sister. Sue, the snappy young woman with a good head on her shoulders but who hangs around with the wrong crowd. And Ann, the down-on-her-luck owner who, despite all her kindness, just can't seem to catch a break. Sid having a huge impact on their lives, Kid A's falls further into question. The road, it seems, is always ahead.
In the end, Roadside Bodhisattva is a relatively solid piece of work from Di Filippo. Seemingly part homage to Jack Kerouac (The Dharma Bums is referenced a few times) as much as it is commentary on Gibran's The Prophet, Di Filippo creates a memorable place from very basic material. But overall it's not his best work. Reigning in his lexical agility and expansive imagination to tell what is a 99% realist story, the characters are well-drawn, but the transitions that occur to them happen all too fast and easy—more space needed to develop the transformations. For sure some people's lives turn on a dime, just perhaps not a micro-community's. And the ending, well, it is set up properly, but seems trite compared to the human stories that preceded it. Then again, perhaps that was Di Filippo's point...
Posted by Jesse at 10:22 PM