Title: The Long Desert Road
Author: Alex Sirotkin
Genre: Literary Fiction
Henry, a middle aged science-writer, into his music but still a bit of a nerd, is researching his new book on the most compelling mystery of the universe, when he meets Isabel, a bright attorney with captivating eyes. For Henry, who’s been struggling for years looking for the right woman, it’s love, at first sight.
Isabel’s not so quickly convinced; and she’s well-aware of her own baggage. Her daughter, Lauren, is a stunning, smart, and intuitive twenty-one year-old girl with issues: among others, her addiction to opiates. Lauren’s been to hell and back, taking her mom with her most of the way. She’s got one last chance before Isabel cuts her off for good.
Part love story, part travel adventure, the novel follows the intersection of the lives of these three unforgettable characters. But this is not the story you think it is. Full of unexpected twists and turns, the plot explores timeless questions of our place in the universe, taking the reader on an engrossing journey of self-discovery.
Now that the interview is over, I’ll focus on the nerve-wracking drive back home. Steinmetz turned out to be quite likable, and we hit it off. I’ll consider his theories later. It’s approaching ten, and I’m high atop a small mountain. I’m never keen on driving along a precipice, even midday. High places scare the crap out of me. My heart races, my mind disengages.
Cliffside driving requires me to white-knuckle the wheel at the perfect two and ten o'clock positions, center the vehicle over the double line and slow to a crawl. I imagine a little old blue-haired lady, in her Buick Road Master careening past me on my right side, within spitting distance from the ledge, glaring at me through her driver-side window as she hurtles by, flipping me the bird.
With that backdrop, the rules of the road at Kitt Peak are interesting. Most notable is the prohibition on the use of headlights after dark. Sure, no problem utilizing them during daylight hours; heck, go for the high beams; but when the sun sets, make sure you turn off your headlamps. We wouldn’t want to inhibit any stargazing going on up here.
So, it may be tricky for me to find my way down the steep grade along the escarpment in the pitch black. I tend to be dramatic, for it’s not all that bad. For one, it's only for the first mile or two. Second, at least parking lights are allowed; and there’s nothing like the red-filtered glow from a thumb-sized LED to illuminate the thin-gauge aluminum guardrail that stands between my flimsy car and a 7,000 foot drop off.
It takes twenty-five minutes to serpentine my way down eight miles of hair-raising road to the bottom. I relax my grip and proceed another easy four miles until my right turn onto a flat Route 86. Here, I have no fear to drive ten miles per hour over the seventy mph speed limit. I’ll be home in forty-five minutes. Mine is the only car on the road, and I feel free to utilize the full force of my high beams, and perhaps make up for some lost time back on the mountain.
Now that safety is no longer a concern, I reach for my cell phone and punch up my messages. I see three voice mails: one from an unknown caller, and the other two from Rafael, my younger brother by two years. I play the first and hear an automatic message from CVS, telling me that my renewal prescription for an anti-fungal that I thankfully no longer need will be ready for pickup. I move onto Raff.
“Bro, what are you doing next Saturday night? Probably nothing. Hah! Sorry. Anyway, I know how many times we've tried this sort of thing. Mare invited a woman over. Yes, an unattached woman; and I promised my darling wife that I would get you to come again. So, unless you want me living on your couch for the rest of my f’n life, you better be here. Okay? Call me."
I hear an urgent whisper in the background.
"Oh yeah, Marianne says she’s cute. Call me."
I smile at my brother's whimsical solicitation, and I’m heartened by Mare's continued attempts at helping me to find happiness. I’m not terribly unhappy, as far as I know. I confess that I want to be with a good woman, someone that truly loves me without doubt or hesitation, someone that gets me. For this, she must be unusual.
As for the mystery woman being cute, I don’t count on it. Every one of Marianne's setups has been represented as “cute.” Must be the term “cute” has a much more profound meaning to a woman than to a man, whose broad view of life goes only as deep as sea level. I don’t trust a woman's appraisal in this regard, and I lower my expectations. In any event, who am I kidding? I’m no Bradley Cooper either.
I look down momentarily at my phone to retrieve Raff's second message.
"Me again. I'm calling from the bathroom so the old bat can’t hear this," he whispers. "Just had to say that I know that you're thinking that Mare always says they're cute. True, but don’t forget there was that Sheila, and she was hot even though really bizarre. You ought to have at least fooled around with her. Moron. She wanted to. Christ, I wanted to. Messed up on that one, you did. Call me."
It’s no coincidence that Rafael homed in on my very thoughts, as he knows me as well as I know myself. Of course, he was kidding about the bathroom thing as I hear Marianne still in the background lovingly berate him as the line goes silent. Theirs is the perfect relationship.
I switch the FM on low, and tune to my favorite pop channel at the start of “Believer.”
First things first
I'm a say all the words inside my head
I'm fired up and tired of the way that things have been…
The way that things have been….
Oncoming headlights from what appears to be a small pickup truck, weaving over the rise at an insane speed, startle me. I hug the shoulder as my car kicks up gravel, and I curse the maniac in the truck that hurtles by. This was a close call.
I soon settle back down. The drive and the music are hypnotic. My thoughts go to the cosmos, my book, and the interview on the mountain.
Buy Links (including Goodreads):
What makes your featured book a must-read?
While this novel deals with fascinating and important subjects - parenting, outer space, addictions, relationships - in a thoughtful and realistic manner, this book is (to employ an overused description) a page-turner! The characters are real, and the dialogue seems to jump up from the page, investing the reader in these three personalities and their story, even well after the reader sets the book down for the final time.
Enter to win a $20 Amazon (US) gift card:
Runs June 15 – June 23, 2021.
Winner will be drawn on June 24, 2021.
The author, Alex Sirotkin, an attorney and businessman for some forty years, is married to Jeanette, the love of his life. Together, they reside with their eighty-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback in Raleigh, N.C.
Mr. Sirotkin was the principal supporter of his daughter, Stephanie, who suffered for ten years with bipolar disorder and her addictions to heroin and alcohol. The author created the character of Lauren in The Long Desert Road based, in large part, on his experiences with his own daughter.
During the three or so years that it took Mr. Sirotkin to complete his novel, he was very hopeful about his daughter’s prospects for her continued recovery and for leading a productive and happy life; and the book reflects such optimism. The final draft was completed just as the Covid pandemic got its start. Prior to the novel’s publication, however, and during the height of the pandemic, on October 2, 2020, Stephanie, at the age of 26, died of a heroin overdose. While she was, in many ways, different from the character of Lauren, with Stephanie’s death, the two of them are now alike as never before in that each now exists only in the mind.
Social Media Link: