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December 17, 2008

Book Smart: Book Report 2

The Motel of the Stars

 (By Karen Salyer McElmurray. Sarabande; 269 pgs., $15.95.)

 

The second installment of the Linda Bruckheimer Series in Kentucky Literature doesn’t spend too much time in Kentucky. (Come to think of it, neither did last year’s inaugural volume.) But you wouldn’t want to miss out on some beautiful dancing among the subplots, which twirl through Asia, Arizona and particularly North Carolina.

McElmurray achieves a blend of subtle humor and rich character development in her look at a family of individuals marked by how they fail to let go of their concerns over death, and how they cling to degrees of order and opt into (or fall away from) senses of purpose.

A father goes in search of a way to leave behind the tortuous memory of his son’s death. Various parties of the New Age movement offer him spiritual-lite treatments, but as these fall short, the potential for genuine tragedy develops.

The novel starts easily, then the pace and intensity spin up into well-weaved parallel road sagas of father and son. The elder visits bookstores with relatives in Asheville (with a nice nod to Malaprop’s famous bookstore/cafe). The younger, in contrasting flashback, endures a nauseating test of the soul in Nepal that leads his girlfriend to wonder, “Could any god keep anyone safe in such a fierce and mysterious world?”

McElmurray eventually stretches the dynamics too far — especially considering her busy-yet-lightweight wrap-up. But no matter how you approach this journey, you’ll make it to the end and find that it has been of some value. The author seems ready to say the same about life, whether it’s guided by devotion to the Commandments or a strange alignment with the Harmonic Convergence.