Ben spends his days driving route 117, delivering packages to people time and the rest of the world seem to have forgotten. He is their lifeline to the “real” world and they help him eke out a living in a town that is on the edge of nowhere and the desert.
There is a reason that people live off 117 – they want to be left alone or are leaving something behind. For Ben, it’s being without family and with few friends; he was abandoned as a baby and is a loner by nature. For Walt, it’s the diner he never opens – or hasn’t for a long time, ever since his wife died. And for Claire, well – at least at first – Claire is a mystery, one Ben can’t help being drawn to.
He thinks he knows every nook, cranny and turn-off on route 117 until a random stop one day leads him to a house in the middle of the desert and Claire. She is newly arrived and definitely not wanting to be found. An ex-husband is in the wings – and might be the one following Ben as he makes his deliveries. It’s all very complicated but also very simple and his and Claire’s lives begin to intersect and then seek each other out as they fall in love.
As they do, life goes on in the desert. People live, they die, they help each other when they need to. Anderson’s characterisation of these secondary characters is wonderful. I felt I knew every single one of them and liked every one of them. I liked Ben, Claire and Walt too, the central characters. All are completely dysfunctional but not in a bad way.
Ben, especially, is the type of character I like and, whilst this isn’t a piece of crime fiction, I was reminded in a way of James Sallis’ characters. He is a man of few words who has made mistakes. He tries to live his life the best way he can and accepts people for who and what they are. He doesn’t conform – and doesn’t intend too. I wanted to be Ben’s friend, or at the very least, have him on my side in a fight.
I also liked the way the novel was written in general, the descriptions of the desert. I felt how lonely and isolating and harsh it could be but also it’s beauty. There are moments when I felt I was there and there are moments when I was glad I wasn’t because I’m not sure I would survive. I was completely drawn in from the beginning.
If I had any criticism it would be that I, personally, didn’t need the ex-husband story line. I wanted more of Ben and Claire falling in love, more of their relationship developing. It was the heart of the story and could, for me, have been the story. That said, it wouldn’t stop me recommending the book at all – I liked it a lot.
Note: I received this book from blogging for books in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings and opinions are my own.
Sounds interesting. I’m gonna have to give this book a try.
I really would give it a go. I am still thinking about it days later.
[…] wise, I got two reviews posted this week – The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson and a Kelly Link short story, The Summer People – both of which I really […]