A singularly compelling debut novel, about a desert where people go to escape their past, and a truck driver who finds himself at risk when he falls in love with a mysterious woman.
Ben Jones lives a quiet, hardscrabble life, working as a trucker on Route 117, a little-travelled road in a remote region of the Utah desert which serves as a haven for fugitives and others looking to hide from the world. For many of the desert’s inhabitants, Ben's visits are their only contact with the outside world, and the only landmark worth noting is a once-famous roadside diner that hasn’t opened in years.
Ben’s routine is turned upside down when he stumbles across a beautiful woman named Claire playing a cello in an abandoned housing development. He can tell that she’s fleeing something in her past—a dark secret that pushed her to the end of the earth—but despite his better judgment he is inexorably drawn to her.
As Ben and Claire fall in love, specters from her past begin to resurface, with serious and life-threatening consequences not only for them both, but for others who have made this desert their sanctuary. Dangerous men come looking for her, and as they turn Route 117 upside down in their search, the long-buried secrets of those who’ve laid claim to this desert come to light, bringing Ben and the other locals into deadly conflict with Claire’s pursuers. Ultimately, the answers they all seek are connected to the desert’s greatest mystery—what really happened all those years ago at the never-open desert diner?
In this unforgettable story of love and loss, Ben learns the enduring truth that some violent crimes renew themselves across generations. At turns funny, heartbreaking and thrilling, The Never-Open Desert Diner powerfully evokes an unforgettable setting and introduces readers to a cast of characters who will linger long after the last page.
Anderson distills the heat and shimmering haze of the Utah desert into his fine first novel. Ben Jones, the owner and sole employee of Ben's Desert Moon Delivery Service, travels up and down Utah Highway 117, making deliveries to the few locals and occasionally getting paid. Ben has come to know many of the area's stranger residents, including Walt Butterfield, the owner of the Well-Known Desert Diner, and itinerant preacher John, who spends much of his time walking up and down 117 lugging a 10-ft. wooden cross. None of these intrigue Ben as much as the naked woman he finds miming playing a cello without a bow or strings, in a house hidden from the highway. Crimes weave in and out of this modern western, but they take a backseat to the tentative relationship that grows between Ben and Claire, the naked air cellist. Just as important as the mysteries of human entanglement are the desert's brilliant light, torrential downpours, and vast night sky.