Reviews & Recommendations

Book of the Week: Ancient Highway


MY THOUGHTS:
Bret Lott is a writer I admire very much, and whose memoir on a life spent writing, Before We Begin, I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. His prose is poetic and his vivid stories are rich with meaning and anyone who loves the movies (or the “flickers” as they are called in this novel), the poetry of early and mid-century Americana, or stories based upon the complex history of a single family will find Ancient Highway a must read.

COMPARE TO:
Leif Enger, Wallace Stegner, Alice Munro

DESCRIPTION: “From the bestselling author of Jewel and The Difference Between Women and Men comes a haunting novel of home, family, and the pursuit of lost dreams. Ancient Highway brilliantly weaves together the hopes and regrets of three characters from three generations as they reconcile who they are and who they might have been.In 1925, a fourteen-year-old boy leaves his family’s farm and hops a boxcar in a dusty Texas field, heading for Hollywood and a life in the “flickers.”In 1947, a ten-year-old girl aches for a real home with a real family in a wide-open space, far from the crowded Los Angeles streets where her handsome cowboy father chases stardom and her mother holds a secret.In 1980, a young man just out of the Navy visits his elderly yet colorful grandparents in Los Angeles, eager to uncover his family’s silent history.For the Holmeses, a longing for something else–another place, a second chance–seems to run in the family DNA. From Earl’s journey west toward Hollywood glory, to his daughter Joan’s wish for a normal existence away from the bright lights, to his grandson Brad’s yearning for truth, this deep-rooted desire sustains them, no matter how much the goal eludes them. But ultimately, in each generation, a family crisis forces a turning away from the horizon and the acceptance of a reality that is by turns harsh and healing.Inspired by stories of his own family, Bret Lott beautifully renders the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary faith in a mesmerizing and finely wrought tale of love and letting go.”

EXCERPT (via Random House):

1

He’d heard it already, the cold and steady promise way off, building and building but still way off, not yet even to the trestle over Rogers Creek. But coming.

He pulled closed the door off the kitchen quiet as he could, his hand on the knob and twisting it so as to ease the latch with no noise at all, and it seemed a kind of good luck sign to him, that no-sound to help him on his way.

He had his good clothes in the pillowcase, the white shirt and stiff denim dungarees and the yellow tie he’d taken from Frank’s things the day after he passed, and though he’d never worn the tie, only kept it like a secret fact out of Frank’s life that no one else would ever know, he was sure he’d look good in it when he went for his first screen test.

That’s what they called them, he’d seen in the magazines he’d read. A screen test, and his blood quickened at the thought of that, a test to see if you could be on the screen. A test he was certain he would pass, knew he would pass.

He had a few copies of the magazines in the pillowcase, too—two Photoplays, one Motion Picture—he’d somehow managed to keep as secret as Frank’s tie, and there were sandwiches in there, wrapped in wax paper and made not but a minute ago. He’d tiptoed his way to the kitchen in the dark, sliced off thick hanks of bread on the butcher block, then found in the icebox a couple leftover slices of ham, slathered the bread with butter from the crock inside the icebox too, then got the wax paper from the drawer beside the stove. And he had two dollars in his pocket, maybe enough for whatever other food he’d need for the three or four days he figured it would take to get to California.

He was ready.

He was going.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bret Lott is the author of twelve books, most recently the novel Ancient Highway, (Random House 2008); other books include the story collection The Difference Between Women and Men, the nonfiction book Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, and the bestselling novels Jewel, an Oprah Book Club pick, and A Song I Knew by Heart. His work has appeared in, among other places, The Yale Review, The New York Times, The Georgia Review and in dozens of anthologies. Born in Los Angeles, he received his BA in English from Cal State Long Beach in 1981, and his MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1984, where he studied under James Baldwin. From 1986 to 2004 he was writer-in-residence and professor of English at The College of Charleston, leaving to take the position of editor and director of the journal The Southern Review at Louisiana State University. Three years later, in the fall of 2007, he returned to The College of Charleston and the job he most loves: teaching. His honors include having been named Fulbright Senior American Scholar and writer-in-residence to Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel; having spoken on Flannery O’Connor at The White House; and being appointed a member of the National Council on the Arts. He and his wife, Melanie, and live in Hanahan, South Carolina.

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