Friday, August 26, 2016

Review of Roadside Bodhisattva by Paul Di Filippo

I suppose every writer may want to write a road novel at some point in time in their career. The open air, the off-the-wall people to be met, the moment to moment existence with little concern for the long-term—it's a life easier to imagine than live, and thus perfect material for fiction. A writer who has covered an immense lot of proverbial ground, I believe Roadside Bodhisattva (2010) to be Paul Di Filippo's road novel.

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...

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