East of Denver came with the description that it is “a poignant, darkly comic debut novel about a father and son finding their way together as their livelihood inexorably disappears” and I wasn’t at all sure what that meant. I don’t read a lot of darkly comic novels and books about fathers and sons are unheard of on my bookshelf. But a free book is a free book and I really do want to expand my reading horizons so I dove in to the story of Stacey and Emmett Williams without a second thought.
Stacey is the son in the story. He’s sort of lost. There’s not a lot of back story for him, but I’m not totally sure he was ever not lost. How could you be in a tiny town with slim pickings for friends and amusement, right? But Stacey struck out on his own, until a stray cat he was feeding died.
Something drove him to take the cat home, to his childhood home, and bury it in the pet cemetery that I’m pretty sure all old-timey farms have.
That’s when things really go downhill for one Stacey “Shakespeare” Williams.
His widowed father is senile, the caretaker woman has gone missing in the worst possible way, the senile father sold the airplane to a slimey banker for $20, and the farm no longer gets any government subsidies.
Drugs are taken, bank robbery plots are hatched, bonfires are built, questionable canned vegetables and frozen meats are eaten, snakes bite, the oddest pairings engage in sex, and father and son go out with the most literal of bangs.
East of Denver lives up to what it claims on the back of the book. It’s poignant, darkly comic, and life and livelihood do disappear. It’s a short read and it goes by quickly, but it’s not always easy to read how these people, characters very complex for the brief time the reader knows them, have their worlds crash down around them. There’s no fantasy escapism here. It’s real life. And real life is darkly comic.
(I was fortunate to win a copy of East of Denver by Gregory Hill through a Goodreads giveaway run by Plume Books.)