Ancient Highway

Written by Bret Lott
Review by Viviane Crystal

“Hurrah!” Earl Holmes jubilantly whispers this word to his dying brother in 1925, symbolizing their shared belief in victory in all circumstances, even death. The very next morning, knowing a better opportunity will never come, Earl leaves his small-town Texan home, hitching his way on railroad box cars all the way to Hollywood to become a movie star, just like in the magazines he pores over. What he sees on this journey transports him to a harsh reality that is so vividly described it makes the reader breathless. The scene suddenly changes to 1947 when Earl and his wife, Joan, a great lover of music, and their daughter are standing outside a movie theater, Earl avidly looking and waiting for someone famous to pass by and afford him the first chance toward success. It’s an extraordinary scene that symbolizes the theme of dreaming big in the face of obvious ill luck. And it’s just that feverish drive that propels this novel into the daughter’s rejection, and a returning Vietnam vet grandson’s search in the 1980s for the truth of this strange family’s real life story.

Betrayal and sacrifice fill the silence for this extraordinary family. The Holmes drama is even more intriguing as we learn what it was like to work with the likes of Moe, one of the Three Stooges, and other actors and actresses. What’s the secret behind a small record that holds a devastating, huge story to do with Earl’s wife?

Ancient Highway is an important look at the film industry in its early stages, and it’s frequently amazing and sometimes devious in its development. The Holmes family’s story parallels this revelation in potent, heart-rending ways.