Can a quiet novel written about a self-effacing, reflective character named Ben draw you in and transport you from the miasma of current events? I am grateful to my Solstice MFA colleague, James Anderson, for creating Lullaby Road, his second book about Ben Jones, a twenty-eight-foot tractor-trailer driver in the high desert of Utah who embraces the expanse of isolation and space while surrounded by characters with challenging circumstances.
I follow the poetic rhythm of Anderson’s words. There is no need to hurry, to find out what’s next. I linger, pause over Ben’s description of his route— tall grasses and twisted junipers, mountains of tires, filled with hissing rattlesnakes—as he delivers drums of water, propane, essential items to his varied customers
I rarely had sharp discussions with my customers. I rarely had discussions at all. Silence joined with indifference to keep conversation to nods and shrugs. Sometimes it almost compensated for how long it took some of them to pay me.
Every aspect of Ben’s life—the landscape, troublesome and endearing customers, friends and loves still on this earth and those who have passed—are woven into the fabric of this novel. Yes, Ben is fictional, contained on the pages of a book, born from Anderson’s imagination. Yet, he is real and lingers long after I leave the page.
Characters, such as John The Preacher, Ginny, a teen, the Doctor, serve to speak the author’s truth. Combination philosopher, poet, human being with a high moral code, and exceptional story–teller, Anderson commits to bringing us a character of moral integrity. Ben Jones is the antithesis of Washington insiders, the subjects of our everyday news, the stories in which we are drowning.
…too damn often a gun might seem like a preserver….I considered them a tool…carrying one around all day was like putting a wrench in your pocket in case one of your nuts came loose. In my experience it seemed that once you started carrying the wrench you started suspecting everyone’s nuts were loose except your own.
I met Ben three years ago in the pages of Anderson’s first book, The Never-Open Desert Diner.It was a page-turner, part mystery, love story and desert journey. I have been to the Southwest desert twice. Both times, I welcomed the change from the frenetic pace of the East coast as I entered the ease of meditative wanderings evoked by the landscape.
I walked out to the front of the truck and paused to watch the sun come up over the desert. …. the white expanse of snow-covered ground began to stretch out before me farther and farther until the sheer cliff face of the red, mica-flaked mesa a hundred miles distant was revealed, its flat top still obscured by clouds and behind them the first piercing rays of sunlight. And forbidding as the desert might be in summer, it was nothing compared to the silent and cold emptiness of winter…. Utah 117 ran straight through its bloodless heart. Driving it was my job…I felt safer in a natural world no matter how treacherous and unforgiving…
At the end of the day, tucked into the quiet night, I am drawn to the next phase of Ben’s journey. Satisfied and grateful for each well-crafted chapter, I sleep well, often dreaming of red adobe mountains, desert, and endless, high-country highway.