America by Land

Robert Olmstead, Author Random House (NY) $20 (0p) ISBN 978-0-679-41130-7
With terse and arresting images and lyricism as deft as Michael Ondaatje's, this diverting road book unwinds its simple story of love and discovery through the dams and canyons, plains and deserts of interstate-America. Raymond Romeo Redfield rides his Harley west on hush money from a near-fatal mining accident that has left him with six months' wages and busted ribs. He's riding to his cousin Juliet, who is alone in New Mexico. She has just given up her baby for adoption, and when Redfield arrives, it's clear that her wounds equal his. Redfield's near-manic energy fuels nonstop comebacks that make strangers laugh and think him a young genius. (A state trooper asks, ``You ever been in any trouble?'' and Redfield says, ``Yeah, I used to wet the bed.'') Setting off together on his bike, Juliet and Redfield follow a route his father once took, checking their progress against snapshots from 1948. As they unravel the country, the fragile taboo of first-cousin incest adds a courtly languour to their inevitable romance. Olmstead ( Soft Water ) captures the intensity of their love and its brooding youthfulness, while the view through their motorcycle helmets gives the reader something delicious, absurd or tragic to stop for on every page. The characters they meet speak with honed and individual voices, and every locale is drawn with exactly the kind of quirky detail you'd imagine a brilliant 23-year-old and his love would notice. The surprise of the conclusion is wholly incidental to the pleasures of the writing. Redfield has the same unpredictable sexiness on the page that James Dean had on screen. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1993
Release date: 04/01/1993
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