Judith D Collins
The Never-Open Desert Diner
By: James Anderson
Publication Date: 3/22/2016
My Rating: 4 Stars
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.
A special thank you to Crown and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. THE NEVER OPEN DESERT DINER, by James Anderson, a debut of life, love, and loss. Full of emotion from witty to heartbreaking, the author takes you on a journey where people go to escape and discover. Walt Butterfield is the diner’s owner. A customer. A junkyard Unitarian. The Well-Known Desert Diner, an odd shrine. Over the years it had become a regular rest stop. Walt kept the diner like everything else in his life in pristine shape. From 1955 to 1987 the diner appeared in dozens of B movies. From horror-thriller to desert biker mayhem movies. Sometimes the owner Walt took down the Closed sign and unlocked the door just to lure people in so he could run them off. Ben Jones is a thirty-eight- ear old trucker and traveling through the Utah desert. Ben’s Desert Moon Delivery Service, consisting of one truck, one trailer, and one driver – Ben Jones. Ben lives alone and has no friends—he comes in contact with the people he meets on his trucker route. This is his life as sad as it is. He stumbles across a woman named Claire. He finds her intriguing. He thinks she is running from something—a past. A Secret. However, he is drawn to her, even though he feels like running—she is trouble. They fall in love and her past surfaces, causing all sorts of issues, crimes, and dangers. What really happened all those years ago at the never-open desert diner? From an eccentric group of characters, the author takes readers on a sort of mystery roadside adventure. Come along for the ride! An excellent storyteller, an emotional, whimsical, and thought-provoking read—looking forward to more from this new found author. An impressive debut!
“High, dry and severely beautiful…. Anderson is one fine storyteller.” - Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
“James Anderson’s first novel works on elements of mirage — a mystery novel with literary shimmers. In the end it is all there, apparent in the high heat of the desert: a great story, well-told, funny, daring, smart and deeply affecting.” —Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin
“James Anderson has written a striking debut novel —lyrical, whimsical, atmospheric and skillfully rendered.” – CJ Box, New York Times Bestselling author of Badlands
“You have not read a book like The Never Open Desert Diner in a long time, if ever. Once you open its pages you will know you are in for something surprisingly enjoyable. James Anderson and his premiere novel are a serendipity that will make a mark on your brain in the most positive way.” – Jackie Cooper, The Huffington Post
“An extraordinary debut.” – Milwaukee Sun-Sentinel
“Anderson … writes with a lyrical style and allows the plot to unfold in a manner as seductive as the desert itself. Readers who revel in fiction set in the Southwest will want to join his protagonist for the ride.” – Library Journal
“Anderson distills the heat and shimmering haze of the Utah desert into his fine first novel.” – Publishers Weekly
“Part love story, part mystery, part meditation on place, James Anderson’s The Never-Open Desert Diner is peopled with quirky characters and peppered with fine prose that has the taste of truth. Anderson’s abundant talents will certainly keep readers turning the pages.” — Roland Merullo, author of Breakfast With Buddha
About the Author
James Anderson was born in Seattle and raised in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and received his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. For many years he worked in book publishing. Other jobs have included logging, commercial fishing and, briefly, truck driver.
He currently divides his time between Ashland, Oregon, and the Four Corners region of the American Southwest. Read More