Monday, August 24, 2009


Traveler by Ron McLarty
hardcover, 280 pages
Viking, 2007
ISBN-13: 9780670034741
very highly recommended

Synopsis from cover:
In Traveler, McLarty serves up another winning hero with the beautifully crafted story of a man who returns to his hometown to discover the truth about his past.
Jono Riley is an aging bartender and part-time actor in Manhattan who specializes in one-character plays. usually performed in front of an audience in the single digit. He still lives by himself in an Upper East Side walk-up, and though he's got a great girlfriend, a firefighter named Renee, his life is stuck and his acting career is going nowhere fast. As the novel opens, news of the sudden death of his childhood friend Marie D'Agostino - his first true love - compels Jono to return for a few days to the place he grew up, the working-class neighborhoods of East Providence, Rhode Island. McLarty weaves the story of Jono's return with that of his coming of age in the early 1960's with his three best friends - Marie's brother Cubby, Billy Fontanelli, and Bobby Fontes - including the story of a series of mysterious shootings that occurred back then, one of which lodged a bullet in Marie's back when she was twelve.
My Thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed Traveler. At first it appears that Traveler is going to be a mystery and Jono is going home to Rhode Island to solve the long standing question of who shot Marie, but suspense is not the driving force of this fine novel. Chapters alternate between the present and memories of Jono and his friend's adolescent years in the sixties, so it's actually more of a novel of Jono's coming of age. It's these memories and interaction with some of his former friends and classmates that eventually solve the mystery. Like me, you may have a good idea what happened much sooner than it is revealed, but that won't matter to most of us. This is a great novel.

McLarty is a gifted writer. You aren't being compelled to read Traveler to find out "who done it." You are compelled to read it because it is so well written. Jono is a likeable main character with a self depreciating sense of humor. The whole novel feels authentic, realistic. McLarty really captured the feeling of growing up in East Providence, R.I. in the sixties. Jono's recollection of his adolescent memories in many ways are universal. Much like Doig, McLarty takes these recollections and shows how the past has effected the present.
Very Highly Recommended


"Dear Jono,
I am writing to tell you that Marie has passed away..." opening

In 1961 I fell wildly in love with Marie D'Agostino. She was tall and graceful and had a smell that was as if she had just toweled off after a bath in rose water....But the thing that caught me, hexed me - engulfed me, really - was her deep, round voice. It seemed to roll out of her small mouth and burst onto your face. And it was with that full, sober, and dependable sound more than any other facet of this astonishing human being that I have compared all women since. pg. 3

When I think back, I can understand Ponserelli's rage at being scored upon, not once but twice by the Pillsbury Doughboy in corduroys, yet I have to think his breaking my stick on my head and quitting a slight overreaction on his part. pg. 8

Because she was standing on my left, as I say, admiring our handiwork, when the bullet struck her just above her left shoulder blade and drove her headfirst onto my [snow] angel. pg. 9

Marie would have been... what... fifty-two? A year older than me. I think she was eighteen the last time I saw her and already engaged to be married. pg. 11

Later on, though, as my brain sorted and re-sorted through the minutiae of those minutes and seconds we spent in that snowy field, it struck me that we might not have been alone, and a blurry vision of something or someone coming hard and fast off the water tower gave me a lot of sleepless nights. pg. 19

We had met on a New Jersey local cable commercial shoot for Gonsalves Fish Market in Newark's Ironbound district. Andrea was assistant to the director. I was Carlos the fishmonger. I suppose when two people collide under such glamorous conditions, sparks are bound to fly. pg. 23

"Why not Broadway? Why not us?" he said with a joyousness that made you truly want it to happen for Robert, even though you knew "why not." pg. 47

It's funny how early years blur by, only slowing a little at those singular moments that are determined to stick out in memory. The rendezvous at the A&W root beer stand, the girls I followed around like a puppy, or even games lost and won seem like a prospect or even an expectation rather than something that has actually happened. A cloudy dream, maybe. The frantic teenage life seems to me hard to believe I ever lived it. pg 76

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