cover image Going to the Sun

Going to the Sun

James McManus, Author HarperCollins Publishers $23 (0p) ISBN 978-0-06-017374-6

Beckett, bicycling, basketball, bears and blood sugar are among the diverse interests of this meditative road story told in the stunning voice of a diabetic, emotionally scarred young woman. At 29, Penny Culligan, a jazz-loving student of Irish literature, is writing her doctoral thesis as she bicycles from Chicago to Alaska to confront a past trauma. She's bicycling back to the place where her lover, David, was mauled by a grizzly. Haunted by the experience, by the fact that she honored David's request to help him die, as well as by the impending threats of her own disease, Penny has lived in cautious solitude for the past seven years. Now, on this somewhat hazardous trek with the oft-postponed thesis deadline looming, she takes stock of her life. Along the way, she meets the possibly dangerous Ndele Rimes, who claims to be an NBA basketball player but might, she fears, be lying. Poet (Great America) and novelist McManus (Out of the Blue; Chin Music) makes interesting use of Beckett, relating his obsession with physical decay to Penny's diabetes, but ultimately this novel, with its heartland highway vistas and constant motion, could not be more American. If the ending is a bit awkward or unsatisfying, it only underscores the paramount importance of journey over destination. Penny's narrative--by turns lyrical, pissed off and longing--is a triumph. (Feb.)