Print Reviews
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas
by Davy Rothbart
Touchstone (2005)
The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas
10 / 10
Davy Rothbart has got be one of the sweetest peops on earth. And I don't mean he's merely a sweetheart, which I'm sure he is. I'm talking the vernacular sweet, when you're so overwhelmed by style and general awesomeness that all you can do is shout out SWEET!

You may have encountered Davy through the magazine and best-selling book FOUND, or heard him on This American Life. While FOUND is an amazing project that continues to snowball into even greater realms, I'm crushed out, hard, on Davy's fiction. The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas is a slim collection of stories that I have compulsively re-read these past couple weeks. Re-reading is the best testament I can give to a book, as I have a backlog of unfinished novels and piles of reading material I haven't cracked open yet. And rarer still are the times when I finish a book and immediately dip back in.

A bit of research has revealed that Davy drew on his own experiences as a teacher in prisons, ticket scalper, and traveler in crafting his tales. This might explain why I'm not just crushed out on Davy, I have it bad for several of his protagonists. Take the narrator of A Black Dog, a scalper and failed hip hop opera composer, on the eve of his move from Chicago to L.A., trying to salvage a short-term romance with someone else's fiance. He's bursting over with uncertainty, heart and all the attendant anxieties and regrets. But most of all, he's got the lust, the unconquerable drive toward a higher consciousness and better days that even a hulking rottweiler can't shake.

Not surprisingly found items, and people, are a dominant theme in the collection. Travel and impermanence structure the bulk of the stories, aside from First Snow and How I Got Here, which explore the lives of the incarcerated. Characters drift in and out of each other's lives, meeting in roller rinks, on highways, outside of concerts. In Maggie Fever, the teenage protagonist falls in love with a girl he's never met, after stealing her backpack off an airport luggage carousel. When he finally meets the titular Maggie, he finds someone wholly unlike his fantasies, but who, through serendipity, grants him his biggest wish.

Davy plumbs the unglamorous world of shysters, shit-talkers, intinerants, and people with dreams bigger than their resources, as in the devastating Elena. Davy socks it to the reader, closing the book with a tale of blood and love south of the border, where an accidental con man learns that his noblest intentions can't overcome poverty and violence. Still, despite mundane and even grim circumstances, possibility shines through in most of the stories, as in the conclusion of The Lone Surfer...:

The world had never seemed so beautiful and devastating, so ordinary and broken-down—all of it filled with the same mournful gleam.

Thankfully we live in Davy's world, we just have to look for what has fallen to the wayside, whether it be a break-up letter in the gutter, an elderly community by the Everglades, or a teenager surfing on a hammock.
Posted by: R. Baker

Print Reviews (July 28th, 2006)