“Some Men Need the Walk.”
Review By Special Contributor Tucker Lieberman
Pairs well with:
Slivovitz, a Croatian Brandy made from plum fruits. A full aroma and flavor developed during the distillation and wood aging process which lends itself perfectly to this book.
Genre: General Fiction
Author: Craig Rodgers
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Whiskey Shots
“Walking away” from a mortgage, in the idiomatic sense, means ceasing to make payments and allowing the bank to reclaim the house. Most people are not physically in motion when this happens. Craig Rodgers’ novel The Ghost of Mile 43 makes its mark by following a man who literally walks away.
“You need to get back to work?” the banker asks in the opening scene.
“I guess I don’t,” answers the former homeowner. For what does he need a paycheck now that he has no mortgage? If he was even employed—which isn’t stated—he’s walking away from his job, too. He “takes a step, and another, and another, and when he reaches the street he keeps going.”
With a detachment reminiscent of Meursault in Camus’ The Stranger, this protagonist, initially referred to simply as “the exile,” begins a life of wandering, guided by little else but hunger.
The premise could easily have become the setting for a philosophical treatise, but Rodgers’ novel instead seems anti-philosophy. The character doesn’t ruminate on the past nor plan for the future, and his observations about the present are grounded in concrete observations about his environment rather than in his feelings about himself or his society.
The anti-philosophy is most apparent when another transient reveals the secret of efficient living: “A blanket answers all your questions. Need a thing you can lay all your shit on, roll it up, carry it around like a bag?” The exile asks for the origin of such wisdom, and the transient proudly credits himself: “A man’s got to have a philosophy of life, or else what’s he even doing?” Heeding the advice, the exile trades his watch for a blanket and a pair of shoes.
Of course, a blanket is hardly a philosophy, and it isn’t the be-all and end-all to anyone’s deep questions. The exile has more to learn (or unlearn), and the anti-philosophy continues to develop. He claims a name for himself: Shaw. We don’t know if that’s his real name or whether it matters. Soon, another cryptic lesson comes from a wayfarer who asks for Shaw’s half-eaten plum. Shaw objects, “I need it,” finishes it, and throws the pit in the fire.
“The wayfarer watches that knot black to cinder. He does not talk for some time. When he does speak it is of needs. He says to Shaw some men need a plum and some men need the walk to go get it. He says they need the act, and the act is purpose. A plum is just a plum, it isn’t anything. When it is eaten it’s gone.”
Perhaps in accordance with this idea—that the act of seeking food matters more than the food itself—for his next meal, Shaw spears a toad, a spectacularly poisonous idea. At this point, it seems, he has neither plums nor purpose. He is empty. He is the road itself, going nowhere. A taciturn beat poet.Does he have to go somewhere? Ought he to do something differently? These questions are posed only implicitly and the answers are left to the reader’s judgment. The Ghost of Mile 43, a new release from the small press Soft Cartel, is an example of an unusual form a novel can take. It’s a quick read that offers an alternative viewpoint from a character who has shorn his life of its organizing systems.
Craig Rodgers. The Ghost of Mile 43. Soft Cartel Press, 2019.
About The Reviewer
Tucker Lieberman is the author of Flip the Finger at Despair, Bad Fire, and Painting Dragons. His short fiction is in Owl Canyon’s No Bars and a Dead Battery, Elly Blue’s forthcoming The Great Trans-Universal Bike Ride, and Mad Scientist’s forthcoming I Didn’t Break the Lamp.
Originally from Boston, Massachusetts, he lives in Bogotá, Colombia. You can check out more of what Tucker is up to at www.tuckerlieberman.com or on Twitter @tuckerlieberman.