Lullaby Road : Review and Author Interview
Book Title: Lullaby Road by James Anderson
Category: Adult Fiction, 305 pages
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Release date: October 16, 2018
Tour dates: Oct 22 to Nov 2, 2018
Content Rating: PG-13 + M (No explicit sex scenes or bad language)
Winter has come to Route 117, a remote road through the high desert of Utah trafficked only by those looking to escape the world and those the world has rejected. Local truck driver Jones, still in mourning over the devastating murder of his lover Claire, is trying to get through another season of his job navigating treacherous roads and sudden snowfall without accident when a mute Hispanic child is placed in Jones’s path at a seedy truck stop along his route bearing a note that simply reads “Please, Ben. Bad trouble. My son. Take him today. His name is Juan. Trust you only. Tell no one. Pedro.” From that moment forward, nothing will ever be the same. Not for Ben. Not for the child. And not for anyone along the seemingly empty stretch of road known as Route 117.
Despite deep misgivings, and without any hint of who the child is or the grave danger he’s facing, Jones takes the child with him and sets out into a landscape that is as dangerous as it is beautiful and silent. With the help of his eccentric neighbors—Phyllis, who turned up one day in her Rolls-Royce with two children in tow and the FBI on her tail; Andy, a Utah State Trooper who is on or off duty depending on if his hat is on or off his head; and Roy, an ex–coal miner who has lived in Rockmuse, off Highway 117, his whole life and survives on odd jobs and the kindness of his neighbors—Jones uncovers buried secrets of the desert that are far more painful than he could have imagined.
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JAMES ANDERSON was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Reed College and received his MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College. His first novel was The Never-Open Desert Diner. His short fiction, poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in many magazines, including The Bloomsbury Review, New Letters, Solstice, Northwest Review, Southern Humanities Review, and others. He currently divides his time between Colorado and Oregon.
My interview with James Anderson:
1. Lullaby Road brings back Ben Jones from your from your first novel, The Never-Open Desert Diner. Although this is not a sequel, what made you do this?
JA: To be candid, that is not an easy question to answer. Sometimes when you reach your destination to realize it is not the end of your journey. Such is the case with THE NEVER-OPEN DESERT DINER. I didn’t begin the first Ben Jones novel necessarily thinking or planning there would be any more; however, along the way I began to ‘feel’ a deeper, longer story. There was simply more THERE there (with apologies to Gertrude Stein) and I by the time it was completed I KNEW there was more—probably not a series, and not a trilogy either—instead, a triptych, which is not really a literary term but rather a visual art term. A triptych is usually three paintings that are separate, can be seen and appreciated individually as stand-alones. Then, when you attach them, they form a much larger and somewhat different work. For me, and the Ben Jones novels, I see each novel alone, but informing each other until they are taken together to present a vast panorama, both human and geological, and personal—a passage of time and connections. Of course, this is not all up to me. My publisher has not agreed to publish a third, though I think I will write it—because I must. I want, need, to see how it all turns out, and even if I can do it at all.
2. Children at risk is a huge problem around the world. What exactly inspired this story?
JA: The short answer is, I was a child at risk. My father abandoned us (my mother, sister and me) at a Greyhound Bus Station. I was perhaps two or three and my sister was an infant. We lived at the bus station, without money or food, for three days until a local Quaker family came and took us in. They took care of us until my mother could find a job and a place of our own. Over the years, life was never easy, but there was a bonding between single women with children, and what seemed to me a shared sense of reverence and protection of children. Regretfully, I don’t think that is as true as it once was. Children are the canaries in our global coal mine. (Canaries were once used in mining to test the air to see if it was safe to breathe.) There are more children at risk all over the world than ever before—and they are ignored, victimized and worse, commoditized, along with women.
LULLABY ROAD is dedicated to the great women in my life. I was raised primarily by women, who are tougher than any man I’ve ever known. And there are truly amazing, strong women in LULLABY ROAD. The heroes of the novel are women, and a child. These days it seems as if empathy and compassion and a sense of responsibility for the dispossessed has been abdicated. What does that say about us as human beings? And what happens when we live and act as if political, religious and racial ideologies take precedence over individual responsibilities. Flannery O’Connor said that you cantonal a large story if you cannot tell a small one. LULLABY ROAD, at its core, is a very small story, it is personal, focused on individuals in a desert making life and death decisions about others, and themselves. Character is, after all, about who we are when no one is looking and no one will ever know what we’ve done—except us. What better place to reveal character—both good and bad—than in the desert?
3. Can you tell us something about your writing rituals?
JA: Oh I have many—only some of which I will confess to here! I usually awake about four in the morning. I like to write when I am still shaking off the residue of sleep—and dreams, and the thin membrane that divides the imaginary world from the “real” world is porous. Also, as my day progresses there are always new fires to extinguish, personal and professional. It is quiet before dawn, and beautiful. I love poetry and I will often spend a half hour or so reading from various collections before I begin my own writing. Recently I read an interview with Andre Dubus III (Townie, Dirty Love and House of Sand and Fog) where he said he does the same thing. Reading poetry opens up the heart and the possibilities of language. The best fiction writers I know also read and love poetry. It shows in their work. Luis Alberto Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter and most recently House of Broken Angels) is another novelist who does this.
My review of Lullaby Road – 4.5/ 5
Although this is a sequel and I thought I’d get the feeling of missing out, I enjoyed this novel more than I had anticipated.
I love how the hero takes readers along on his journey along the desert highway, introducing us to very interesting characters as he makes his deliveries.
Given my personal experience of working with children in vulnerable situations, I was particularly drawn to the fact that Ben Jones, putting aside his personal sorrows, sets about keeping the child safe.
The book kept me riveted. Anderson has a gift of painting pictures with his words – he brings out the the challenges of desert travel so well and his characters are so well described and believable.
I received a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Praise for Lullaby Road:
“Atmospheric…Arresting desert vistas and distinctive characters leave a lasting impression.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Anderson’s lyrical prose brings a forgotten corner of the world to life, and the authentic narrative does the same for Jones. Recommended for fans of William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire.”
“…a delicious cast of colorful characters…Lullaby Road is a triumphant mix of landscape, character, wit and sagacity wrapped in a noir thriller.”
– Shelf Awareness
“The action is nonstop, and the plot twists are heart-pounding. Anderson’s vivid prose gives a sense of vastness that is the desert he so brilliantly describes – it is an amazing use of language to create a mood and feeling…Fans of Anderson’s first installment of this series will devour this book and long for another visit with the residents along Route 117.”
– Library Journal Starred Review
To read more reviews, please visit James Anderson’s page on iRead Book Tours.