Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Detour' by William Wilson

1/5 Stars
I first encountered ‘Detour’ in 1975, when, on a sweltering Summer day, I set out from my house on the 30 minute walk to the public library downtown on State Street. On the shelf devoted to paperbacks I saw Detour, with its cover illustration of two hillbillies – one holding a meat cleaver – looking downright unfriendly (the artist is uncredited, but is apparently George Ziel, who did  a lot of paperback cover art in the 60s and 70s). That was all I needed to decide that Detour might be worth a read.

More than 34 years later I again picked up Detour (Berkley, 1975, 154 pp), this time courtesy of, where many PorPors can be had for affordable prices.

Woodsend is a tiny, isolated village in heavily forested part of America (probably the Pacific northwest). Things haven’t changed much in Woodsend, indeed, not for decades. The inhabitants tend to have monosyllabic or disyllabic names (‘Sam’, ‘Henny’, ‘Dee-Dah’, ‘Bobby Billy’). There may be some degree of inbreeding taking place among those citizens given to procreation. There is a humble general store and some beat-up trailers and rustic cabins where the populace make their homes. There is a sheriff named ‘Maybe’, who sometimes takes his red 1930 Cadillac police car out for a drive thirty miles to the east, and to the interchange with the freeway that served to bypass Woodsend years ago.

And there the sheriff blocks the freeway with a barrier that directs travelers to the west, and to Woodsend, with a sign that reads ‘freeway closed; detour’. And the residents of Woodsend, when they hear a car approaching, start to get very excited….

At its heart, the storyline of Detour is quite straightforward and perhaps a better basis for a short story than a novelette. Unfortunately, Wilson’s prose suffers from continuous injections of overwrought existential philosophizing. At these times, the narrative shifts to low gear and the writer digresses into some poetic musings about how unfair life is: 

He shut the door and he was outside, he was outside the car and the womb it represented, he closed the door and he was suddenly different, he was new, it was as though everything he was had been locked away in the airtight car, all his anguish and wonderings,  all the absurd machinations of business and passions of family. He was free and he was exquisite. It wasn’t going to last, it was barely a moment or two of beatitude, but enough, probably too much, a single clear glimpse of something that could be a goal, something he could want and seek or learn. The world’s oldest happiness touched him and babied him, it made calm pleasant love to him, it withdrew the bitter poisons in his mind and the fires in his body.

Whew- ! All this Deep Thought from a middle-aged man getting out of the station wagon within which he is taking his family on their vacation.

These chunks of philosophizing belabor almost every single page of the narrative and make ‘Detour’ a real dud of a suspense novel. So much for treasuring some of those strange novels from my teenage years ….

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