Striking Setting, Confused Plotting
The Never-Open Desert Diner is billed as a literary crime mystery. If slow and plodding is all it takes to be considered “literary” then it hits the mark. It had all of makings of an excellent novel. A striking setting, a unique and interesting protagonist, a mysterious love interest and, initially the buildup of intrigue. In the end, the novel was a victim of its own potential and unraveled at a disastrous pace.
Ben Jones is a Native-American, Jewish truck driver. His unique heritage is matched by his unique job. He operates a delivery business along a solitary stretch of desert highway. His customers have chosen lives of solitude as they seek to escape their own demons. While on delivery run, Ben encounters Claire, a beautiful musician living in a secluded and abandoned home. As their friendship blooms, Ben is confronted by her murky past and finds an uncomfortable spotlight on himself.
This is the second novel I have read in the past month in which a striking setting is marred by its plot. Yet unlike, The Quality of Silence , the setting is not an immersive experience. The desert setting was rife with possibility that failed to come to fruition. There was an effort to contrast the hidden and damage inhabitants with the concealing harshness of the desert but I was never made to feel part of the setting or part of the lives of any of the characters.
Where the setting failed, the characterization was equally flawed. As happened throughout the novel, the author confused an interesting element with interesting plot development. Take the character’s history for example. He was a Native American Jewish orphan. From the outset we know that because of this, he has never fit in and it isn’t until the end that this history plays a role, but only in epilogue. This happened time and time again throughout the story. Where elements should have felt poignant, they instead felt like gimmicks.
These are not my biggest complaints. Although I had the above complaints, the writing was solid and the story was creating intrigue. That was until the wheels fell off. At around the 3/4 mark, dead bodies started appearing, evil organizations appeared without warning, characters were given confusing freedoms, conflicts were resolved with sudden natural disasters and the desert world became cartoonish. Without a doubt, this was amongst the most confounding resolutions I have read in a long time. The reader is left confused as to why a previously methodical story is concluded with a circus show.
It may be that the author was aiming for some striking symbolism. When I was confused by literary unicorns in the desert other readers may accept these misplaced items and attribute meaning to their existence. While the author had initial control of his story, he lost control as he was forced to navigate the rougher terrain. I can see the potential in the author’s writing as he clearly has skill with the pen but a good author can take the oddities and incorporate them into plot so that the reader can accept them as necessary.
Not everyone will agree with my take. If, despite my thoughts, you are interested is seeing what this has to offer, it is available for purchase on March 22, 2016.
Whether you are concerned about a younger reader or you are sensitive to adult content in novels, I attempt to provide you with some information to make an informed reading decision. 1 is Low and 5 is High.
Sex – 3
Characters have several sexual encounters. Their encounters are mildly graphic and they contain some descriptions of the woman’s body. There are several moderately graphic descriptions of a rape (Also under Violence)
F-Words – 12 Mild Obscenities – Approx 75 Religious Exclamations – 5
Violence – 3.5
There are moderately graphic descriptions of a physical attack and a rape. It occurs on multiple occasions. A character is essential cut in half because of an accident. Several other characters are killed in an accident. Two characters engage in a physical altercation and each suffer superficial injuries. A character suffers nearly fatal injuries from an auto accident.