In Roote 66, JB Coffman weaves a tale of eclectic characters, wraps them in stellar descriptive writing and realistic dialogue all the while mining intense emotions as well as providing comfortable pacing that permits the story to unfold brilliantly and naturally. We get a gift of well developed characters and a healthy slice of Americana that leaves us emotionally satisfied.
When we first meet Evan Brom (Ev), we immediately realize that he is an unapologetic loner. For Evan, meaningful human interaction is as appealing as The Plague. So as Evan (a former accountant) maps his road trip along Route 66, his life also becomes a series of unremarkable bars and equally unremarkable one night stands. Yet, Evan isn’t a self absorbed Lothario whose numerous conquests feed his ego. Rather, he is a man harboring a tragic secret who desperately uses alcohol and sex to numb his pain. Ev’s arguably self destructive pattern is a temporary fix. It isn’t until Fate brings him to Willow Bend that he learns some very important life lessons.
Roote 66 revolves around two main characters, Ev and Lorraine Addison (Rainey). Coffman charts Ev and Rainey’s story with as much focus on their internal journey as she does with the external landscapes along Route 66 that she brings to life with her stunningly descriptive writing. What we experience in this raw narrative is the emotions of two people educated by the school of hard knocks, who also wear the scars of their painful pasts with perhaps the realization that their roads so far have led them to a present moment of healing.
What I discovered is that Roote 66 is a marvelously crafted tale offering up contradictions in an honest, non preachy way. On its surface, the book speaks of escapism: refusing to become hostage to one’s past demons or beholden to misguided societal expectations of perfection. Ev is a study in these contradictions. He is the tall Adonis who women covet for his handsome face and chiseled body. Yet, behind his youth and sensitive eyes is a history of pain and regret. Similarly, Rainey is a woman whose appearance society might regard as ordinary. But there is nothing ordinary about her. Behind her acerbic manner is a fractured soul who has also suffered. She wages a battle with that face she sees in the mirror everyday unable to fully understand or perhaps comprehend how beautiful she truly is.
Willow Bend could be like any small town lacking the sophistication or prestige of say New York or Los Angeles. For the outside world, a diner like Maxie’s becomes the meeting place for a string of misfits. But are they truly misfits? Max (who owns Maxie’s) seems cantankerous. However, Max is protective and nurturing in his way, especially in his relationship with long time waitress Rainey. Max, like Rainey, is a exquisitely layered character who Coffman reveals with careful precision. Readers will take note of both Rainey and Max’s back stories and realize that they are indeed survivors. Similarly, Ev is also a survivor. The attractive, charismatic loner emerges as a kindred spirit for Rainey.
Supporting characters like Jasmine (Jazz), the town’s proclaimed “fallen woman” who can easily rival Ev with her collection of one night stands, and Larry, the less than intelligent (I’m trying to be kind here) thorn in Rainey’s side also enrich the story and help our protagonists (Ev and Rainey) in their journeys. It is too simplistic an assessment to call Jazz and Larry the antagonists in Coffman’s book (although Larry does something that would qualify him as an antagonist). Rather, I prefer to view them as integral components that drive the narrative towards a purposeful conclusion. They are the destination points on both Ev and Rainey’s paths towards character fulfillment.
Another writing tool that Coffman employs is oscillating between past and present. Readers are traveling along Route 66 with Ev. At the same time, Coffman provides snapshots of Ev’s life. We meet his daughter Brittany (Brit) and wife Kayla. I don’t want to spoil the plot for readers. However, I will add that it is crucial that readers pay close attention to these past moments with Brit and Kayla. Coffman masterfully threads foreshadowing throughout her narrative. This foreshadowing is a testament to her writing talent because it is wisely subtle. Consequently, the emotional payoff for readers is definitely worth the wait.
Even the name Roote 66 that Coffman selected for her novel is marvelously ingenious.
I read this book in only two days. It is extremely powerful. Roote 66 was one of those special kinds of books that command reader preoccupation. With this book, the words don’t merely invade your mind to be forgotten quickly. Instead, the characters and their stories resonate. Roote 66 teaches us that perfection is but an illusion thrust upon us by society. There is no such thing as the perfect person, the perfect life or the perfect body. We become the product of our life experiences. We become the product of our pain. There are over a million stories and over a million journeys that await people from small towns and big cities around the world. Perhaps if one person finds his or her own Willow Bend along his or her Route 66, their life will be all the better for the journey.