For the Joy of Reading: Last Bus to Coffeeville

If you are looking for a book that is the love-child of “On the Road” and “Huckleberry Finn” with a smidgeon of euthanasia thrown in, look no further.   This is the book for you.

It is a road trip, in which a motley band of fugitives head down the Mississippi Valley towards Coffeeville for a tryst with destiny.   It is also a story about the last 60 years of US history.   There are brief encounters with Che Guevara and Fidel Castro.   There are glimpses of the icons of the period – Elvis Presley, Martin Luther King and Hershey bars.   There is that glorious moment when the Freedom Riders get on buses to desegregate the South.   And we are given a hint of what awaits baby boomers as they get old.

The story begins with the reader meeting three ex-students from Duke University.   There is Doc, whose real name is Eugene, but who is known as Doc because he used to be a doctor before retiring.   There is Bob, who is a retired CIA-type assassin (think, an ageing, black Jason Bourne).   And there is Nancy, a daughter of Oaklands Plantation, deep in the Mississippi Delta, who is afraid that she will suffer from dementia like her mother and gtandmother before her.   These are the three Freedom Riders, who get on a bus, get arrested in Alabama and end up going their separate ways, not to meet again until they are in their late sixties.   Doc has made a pledge to Nancy when they were young and in love, and this story is about the fulfilment of that pledge.

The other two main characters are Jack, a weatherman who spectacularly quit his job on live TV, and who is Doc’s godson, and Eric, a young orphan who has run away to search for his cousin Susan.   These five end up together on a bus that was stolen from Paul McCartney some five years ago, beginning a journey worthy of Don Quixote through the southern states to Coffeeville.

There is also a positively Dickensian list of supporting characters who assist these five on their journey.   You will learn about the history of the American left from the Wobblies to the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War protests.   But this is not a book that forces its learning down your throat.   It carries you with the exuberance of its writing through the lives of its main characters.   They are not action heroes – they are not D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers.   They are ordinary people with all their foibles and idiosyncrasies trying to do their best, and not always succeeding.   Even in its darkest moments, when confronting our mortality, this is a celebration of life.

This book is a celebration of the American way of life, a celebration of individuality, of friendship, of more than occasional lunacy.   This book is truly a joy to read.

 

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