Michael Doane’s Six Miles to Roadside Business resembles accounts of the 1960’s flower children era that I’ve read in the past. The writing has a counter-culture, hippie feel. Doane’s writing is not exactly stream of consciousness but real close in that at times it can be hard to tell the time period or the character who is narrating. As the book jacket notes, this may be intentional but this feature also made the narrative hard to understand.
Vance Ravel, the son is on his way back to Roadside Business, Utah. Talk about an odd name for a town but “Country Address” in Clarkston, GA and “Hog Liver Road” outside of Rome, GA, and Eastaboga, AL are weird names. I presume there is a Boga west of Eastaboga. (I started reading this book to fulfill a Goodreads L&L 50 state challenge). Roadside Business is a small town that has been bypassed by modernity.
Near when the story opens, Ravel is walking through the desert, six miles out away from Roadside Business. He is coming home after a three year absence to find himself. He left behind Cassie, his wife, and young son, his mother, and a host of demons in the form of a new age desert cult by the name of ER. Ravel was the leader of this cult, though not at first voluntarily. The cult found him and his family in the desert where Cassie, Ravel, and Jered, their son had moved to get away from everybody and everything and to … wait for it … find himself.
Part of what has led to this relocation into the desert has been Ravel’s quest to find out why his father died. According to popular legend, Ravel father’s, John Ravel, committed suicide by walking into the light. Ravel was young when his father died, too young to understand what was going on behind the scenes of his father’s employment, and service in the military as what I loosely term as a bomb specialist. We’re talking big bombs, like the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagaski in WWII.
After WWII, the military continued testing, and increasing in size and potency, the bombs. What Ravel I believe learns is that his father, like all of those who served under him, was likely terminally ill, from radiation, having been involved in a large number of tests. A concurrent theme is the belief of the father that he would be promoted to an officer’s rank if he remained in the service for two or three years. The father’s reason is twofold. One for the honor of being an officer and the other to provide for his family as officer’s benefits the father believes are more substantial than those given to the enlisted. At some point, likely again because he is too ill to continue much longer, Ravel’s father gives up on the dream of being promoted to the officer core. Again, the father seeks to provide for his family, albeit after his death. If he dies during a bomb test, he dies in combat, and his family will get an increased survivor’s pension is more.
In coming home, Ravel wants his family back and he sets about to do this, though time has not stood still for Cassie who is pregnant with another man’s child. It becomes a quest to keep Cassie from moving on and to rediscover his son. Having been a pain in the town’s metaphysical, and physical, butt, Ravel finds that he has a lot to atone for, most of which has to do with his former “cult” druggie self and the fallout from that. People do not trust him. On top of all of this, Ravel must deal with a former ER member who was tracking him since Ravel’s reappearance and who Ravel believes has been sent by ER to send him a message—a termination one.
As I wrote above, the writing is at times hard to follow, but the novel is interesting and relatively concise. The parts about the testing of the bombs were interesting and a nice follow-up to other historical and non-fictional accounts of US atomic bomb history.