cover image The Last Great Road Bum

The Last Great Road Bum

Hector Tobar. MCD, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-18342-4

Tobar’s stunning follow-up to Deep Down Dark draws from the unbelievable true story of Joe Sanderson, a peripatetic would-be-writer who left a comfortable existence in Urbana, Ill., in order to travel the world in search of material for a great American novel. Instead, he found romance, danger, and the dark heart of the mid-20th century. After falling in love with life on the road in 1960 as a high school senior traveling alone in Mexico City, Joe hitchhikes his way across Jamaica, narrowly escaping a government crackdown on the Rastas he’d fallen in with. Then it’s on to South America, where Joe embraces the life of a vagabond before setting out again and experiencing historical events across the globe. In Saigon, he surveys the aftermath of the Tet Offensive; and in Biafra, he crisscrosses war zones in emulation of his heroes Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad. All the while, Joe begins writing and occasionally finishes unpublishable novels with titles like The Prince of Castaways, Caledonia, and The Silver Triangle. Working from a massive archive of Sanderson’s letters, journals, and doomed forays into fiction, Tobar discovers the real story in Joe’s life, following him into his fateful decision to join the paramilitary rebels in El Salvador. Throughout, Joe appears in footnotes to dispute the veracity of the account of Tobar, the “Guatemalan dude” who fictionalized his remarkable life. No matter; Tobar brilliantly succeeds in capturing Joe’s guileless yearning for adventure through high-velocity prose that is both relentless and wry. Tobar’s wild ride achieves a version of Kerouac for a new age. [em](Aug.) [/em]