In this bittersweet story, America with its Burma-shave signs along Route 66 and its “Little Brown Jug” also includes gun violence. The journey west for Brady begins in Missouri with a murder/suicide. Suddenly he’s responsible for his little niece. For Margie, it begins with dreams of Hollywood and the reality of a distant father who barely speaks to her. When Brady meets Margie, they forge a connection. Traveling in the ’30s version of a wagon train, a caravan of trucks and cars, they form an ensemble with other families. They camp out at night under the stars in Oklahoma. Rusty, who is blind but a talented musician, likes young Mona, whose father has married a floozy. Cowboy songs drift on the night breeze. Taking a road trip to California is America’s version of the Odyssey.
Garlock doesn’t rhapsodize about the scenery. This isn’t lyrical writing, but character-based, with a strong narrative drive. Brady, flawed by a mean streak, makes enemies of some drifters. Margie’s stubborn pride puts obstacles in the way of her happiness. The engine of the book is the dynamic interplay between characters, fueled by the deadly conflict between Brady and the drifter. I kept reading just one more chapter, although the graphic language, sexism and violence repelled me. The author spends too much time with the lowlifes at the expense of her major characters.