Publication Date: November 27, 2016
In Need More Road by Stephen Jared, Eddie is a 52-year-old loner living in Barstow, California in the 1950s. He spends the free time away from he has at his job in the bank watching movies. When Mary Rose comes into the bank looking like a movie star, Eddie finds her irresistible. He discovers that she and her father moved to the area after experiencing a windfall. As enchanted as he is by Mary Rose, when her father presents the idea of a bank heist, Eddie knows he needs to walk away. But can he just leave?
Need More Road reminds me of a movie set in the 1950s but made in the 1970s. There’s a melancholy to Eddie. He lacks the cheerful artifice obligatory in the culture of the doo-wop era. Eddie is living the life of quiet desperation that Ray Milland can’t take in “The Lost Weekend.” Eddie loves movies, watching them over and over. He lives alone and works with people who view him, much to his dismay and annoyance, as an object of pity. He’s a realist who is trapped in his existence and in a desert adjacent town. Circumstance has made Eddie generally a keen observer of humanity. That Eddie escapes into a darkened theater explains why a woman walking into the bank looks like the perfect diversion he sees on screen, and he finds the idea of her irresistible. When he sees her and her “lemon icing hair,” he imagines them in a scene together with his role played by Cary Grant (though, logically, he’d be played by the dark Jack Lemmon that appeared on screen in the mid to late 1960s). When she leaves, he’s flummoxed and we know that Eddie is buying whatever Mary Rose is selling. But Jared has also established his character as logical leaving a sense of mystery.
Need More Road is a character-driven novel. To a certain extent, the story turns on decisions made. Jared’s prose is lyrical. Mary Rose walks with “no bones, pure softness.” A pillow has an “aged but not unpleasant smell as though stuffed with cozy memories.” There is a visual aspect to the entire piece and while Jared does call upon our familiarity with the era, he doesn’t use it as a crutch but builds a wholly independent work. Jared doesn’t take Need More Road to a place one wouldn’t expect of such an, on the surface of things, active plot idea which breeds interest in the things readers normally don’t consider in the noir fiction. I’m leery of giving spoilers, but the latter part of the piece focuses on the characters in a situation out of their element. While all background characters and dangerous elements are clearly fleshed out, they are people we’ve met before in movies and fiction with added dimension making them Jared’s own.
Need More Road is a flawlessly interesting read. Told in the third person, the flow of the piece is engaging and the author either has an ability to self-edit or employed a really good editor as there are few things out of place. Some readers may want the fireworks but, I assure you, the path the story takes is a benefit to both tone and pacing. A character “trapped in a cloud of loneliness” suddenly finds himself in a less than ideal situation that he might consider better than where we met him. Need More Road is an exercise in literary fiction and just really good storytelling. The historical setting is consistent and clear and Jared is an author who knows well his place in time and the way his characters interact in their setting. Need More Road is a good bet if you like good character-driven fiction and are looking for something to do this weekend.
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