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The Junk Yard Solution
Adventures Among the Boxcars and Other Lost Causes
As the rest of the world goes wild over smart phones, an odd assortment of eclectic characters hunkers down near Lebanon, Kansas, geographic center of the lower 48, at the middle of a square-mile junk yard where railroads dump old boxcars. The characters live in the boxcars. They don’t like electronic gadgets. They’re fed up with digital life.
In a triumph of literary fiction, adventure, mystery, suspense and caustic comical digs at contemporary society and U.S. history, they create an acerbic satire in search of lost causes. Among them lovely Loretta campaigns to tear down a cell phone tower that rises above the boxcar village. The tower is owned by a communications company whose salesmen are Cheyenne Native Americans.
But then Loretta is discovered one morning hanging dead from the tower. A large Federal Marshal and ex-NFL tight end investigates her death, grilling all residents, each with their own peculiar fantasy tale. Suspense builds. Who killed Loretta? Will the tower come down? Why are the Cheyenne circling the village? Why is this one of the most enjoyable, readable and fascinating novels published?
The answers lie in the characters created by the author. As in earlier novels, described by critics as “marvelously extraordinary, eccentric and bizarre,” Peter Kelton’s characters emerge from boxcars where each life has had its ups and downs, tales of love, triumph and adventure, but never a defeat.
As in all his novels the author remains steady in his belief that well-written literary fiction doesn’t have to be high brow; it has to embrace ideas about destiny in a storyline that holds the readers’ attention. During his classic presentation at the 200th anniversary writers’ conference of North American Review, the nation’s oldest literary magazine, he poked fun at his own novels for their obscurity, implying clarity in the digital age equals salvation. Then he toyed with the digital age itself:
Some nut will find a way to blow up the electric grid. All these electronic gadgets that rely on electricity will go dark. The batteries will run down. We’re talking Cormac McCarthy darkness, black on black. . . except for one distant flicker of light. It’s on a beach probably Australia. Survivors will make their way through the dark and find the light from a single candle. Next to the candle will be a lad with a note book scribbling away with the last pencil on earth. He’s writing about what happened. He hopes someone will read what he writes. That’s what writers do. They hope.
In “The Junk Yard Solution” Kelton’s characters are indeed marvelously extraordinary, eccentric and bizarre. They are just as real as Studs Terkel’s real folks in “The Great War.” Instead of a war to bind them together, they share the Junk Yard in a fantasy. After a small standing ovation for his literary presentation, a local reporter in Cedar Falls, Iowa asked Kelton what his “style” was. “Wedged somewhere between the beautiful language of John Hawkes and the dense absurdity of Thomas Pynchon.”
“The Junk Yard Solution” is a companion to a six-novel bookshelf that also includes “Splat!” “A Light in Polanco,” “The Trevor Truculence,” “Reminds Me of My Innocence,” and “The Yesterlings,” written in a span of 50 years after Lewis H. Lapham, editor of Harper’s, wrote to the author’s agent, “I love the way Kelton writes.” His writing has been described as “lyrical and stunning in its simplicity.”