Book Review: Presidio by Randy Kennedy

For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy

The vast expanse of West Texas is all-too-seldom used as a backdrop in fiction these days. But for his superb debut novel, Panhandle-bred Randy Kennedy so vividly captures the sprawling, flat, arid landscape of the High Plains as to practically render it a character in its own right, an omnipresent protagonist if you will. The University of Texas-educated New York Times art writer of 25 years skillfully crafts this story of two estranged brothers, both at loose ends, who reluctantly reunite after more than six years. Throughout their adolescence, they were largely forced to fend for themselves by a chronically absent father. It's now 1972, and Troy has long ago become a cypher of sorts, an invisible man who endlessly travels the back roads of West Texas staying in cheap roadside motels, burgling the rooms of fellow travelers and stealing their cars. He returns home to find his younger brother Harlan living a meager existence in a tiny storage shed. They head off looking for Harlan's wife who disappeared with all of his money. When his truck breaks down, Troy steals a station wagon only to find out the next morning that Martha, a young Mennonite girl, has been hiding silently in the back. Now faced with an impending kidnapping rap as well as auto theft, the brothers race to reach the border town of Presidio where they intend to drop the girl at the bus station and then head to safety in Mexico. An amusing battle of wits between Martha and the brothers to reach a basic level of trust reminds this reader of O. Henry's short story "The Ransom of Red Chief." Kennedy makes several narrative detours that prove to be quite compelling, even if they don't always resolve as you might expect. At its heart, this is a road story but by no means the exultant, romantic kind that Kerouac and Cassady shared. Like the fiendish terrain it traverses, this road is harsh, spiteful, and unforgiving. That said, Kennedy portrays it beautifully and populates it, however sparsely, with desperate yet sympathetic characters. Indeed, the road goes on forever but the party ended a long time ago.


Presidio

by Randy Kennedy
Touchstone, 320 pp., $26

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Texas fiction, Randy Kennedy, O. Henry

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