Smoke City is an adult, magical realism by Keith Rosson and is recently published on January 23rd, 2018 by Meerkat Press.
Marvin Deitz has some serious problems. His mob-connected landlord is strong-arming him out of his storefront. His therapist has concerns about his stability. He’s compelled to volunteer at the local Children’s Hospital even though it breaks his heart every week.
Oh, and he’s also the guilt-ridden reincarnation of Geoffroy Thérage, the French executioner who lit Joan of Arc’s pyre in 1431. He’s just seen a woman on a Los Angeles talk show claiming to be Joan, and absolution seems closer than it’s ever been . . . but how will he find her?
When Marvin heads to Los Angeles to locate the woman who may or may not be Joan, he’s picked up hitchhiking by Mike Vale, a self-destructive alcoholic painter traveling to his ex-wife’s funeral. As they move through a California landscape populated with “smokes” (ghostly apparitions that’ve inexplicably begun appearing throughout the southwestern US), each seeks absolution in his own way.
Smoke City is a character-driven road trip that individually brings two guilt-ridden men under a spotlight to win a mission of their own.
This story was insane because the characters were insane and all in a good way. Each character’s ark is evidently well worked upon and makes them not only come alive to me, but I can sympathise with them too (not literally, just as a nineteen-year-old reader, LOL). Marvin is a 57-year-old man who sets out to apologise a woman who claims to have been possessed by Joan of Arc’s soul, because he was the executioner who had lit the killing fire for the French woman. Also, all through the trip, he’s worried about his fast-approaching birthday because he has never, in his past lives, ever lived past the threshold of fifty-seven years. Speaking of past lives, he remembers all of them, unfortunately.
Mike Vale is different from Marvin but still in almost the same boat. He was once an admired artist who dropped down a hole of alcohol (metaphorically) and followed a path of self-destruction from there on. Having done quite a few disagreeable works, he’s now on his way to LA to attend his ex-wife’s funeral because maybe that can be a start to his repentance for a number of deeds. In addition to these two, there’s a fresh out of high-school guy, Casper, who has his own dreams he wants to accomplish and tagging along the two would be his best chance at the moment.
The plot is centred around the two but there’s a hint of fantasy with ghosts roaming the streets who are called smokes. Though this gives a fine side-story to care about for a while, it wasn’t the highlight—and I liked it that way. The character development is amazingly executed and definitely makes you feel sad or angry or frustrated when they recount their past decisions and experiences. This road trip is a journey that the readers takes alongside them and while the pacing can sometimes be a bit too slow, it doesn’t bore anyone to the brim and let’s you stay a while longer.
The writing is another great aspect of this story. Both third-person and first-person narrations are used to tell Mike and Marvin’s story, respectively. In fact, there are newspaper articles, journal entries and even radio interviews to get the story across, and I don’t know what could be more impressive. There are descriptive words and staggering emotions to the mix that made the entire trip more fun…and emotionally tiring. The book brings across all the poignant lines effectively. Overall, this was a really good read that I (truly, unexpectedly) enjoyed!
I would recommend this to all those who are enthusiastic about utterly flawed characters who slide down their redemption arcs in a wonderful way, all the while emotionally reaching out to the reader.
Keith Rosson is the author of the novels The Mercy of the Tide (2017, Meerkat Press) and Smoke City (2018, Meerkat Press). His short fiction has appeared in Cream City Review, PANK, Redivider, December, and more. An advocate of both public libraries and non-ironic adulation of the cassette tape, he can be found on his website.
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I received a digital copy of this book via a promotional blog tour but that in no way influences my rating and/or opinions about it. Thank you XpressoBookTours, Meerkat Press and Keith Rosson!