cover image The Loop

The Loop

Joe Coomer / Author Faber & Faber $21.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-571-1

The protagonist of Coomer's deliciously quirky and perceptive fourth novel (after A Flatland Fable ) is Lyman, 30, a lovable loner (he has never known his parents) who works nights for the Texas highway department, driving around the Loop that circles Fort Worth. In this dark, endless orbit--a subtly shifting metaphor for Lyman's own life--he aids stranded motorists, collects debris for his trophy collection and buries animals killed by cars. When an aging but spry parrot with a beakful of cryptic sayings barges through the screen door of Lyman's trailer and upsets his routine, Lyman's deeper humanity is oddly stirred. He decides that finding ``the owner behind the bird . . . would be akin to finding the message behind the universe.'' To this end he enlists the aid of Fiona, a sexy librarian at the college where he has enrolled in a potpourri of courses from French to furniture repair. Together, they research parrots and try to track the sources of the bird's perplexingly hieratic utterances. The quest turns up surprises, not always the answers Lyman thinks he seeks. Increasingly when he returns to the nocturnal exitless Loop, he sees his beloved highway in a new light as a place of ``aridity'' and estrangement. Despite a jarringly abrupt switch to Fiona's viewpoint late in the narrative, the denouement both heartens and satisfies. (Oct.)