Weaving between hope and destruction, fear and sorrow, fantasy and realism, American author and illustrator, Keith Rosson, expertly drives his ghostly, offbeat road novel, Smoke City, into interesting, unforeseen terrain. Set in modern-day America, Rosson’s impressive, character-driven fantasy is focused on two tortured souls, both haunted by past transgressions and both seeking atonement.
Mike Vale, whom the reader is introduced to first, described as “one of the most renowned contemporary artists in America” with his early and mid-period canvases reaching exorbitant prices, has experienced a rapid fall from grace. During his decades-long battle with alcoholism, he is convicted of DUII and second degree assault; he imprudently signs away the rights to his artwork to his avaricious agent; and he watches his marriage and career collapse beyond repair. Now, twenty-five years later, he is a “growling and weeping” crumbling wreck of a man, who is drinking himself to death, brooding on the past, unable to hold down a job, and incapable of painting or going a day without getting into a drunken fistfight with customers, bar patrons, and police officers. The news that his ex-wife from a quarter of a century earlier, a mystery novelist whom he was married to for three years, has died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage changes the course of his life. Feeling “a sadness rattling inside him” at the memory of her, Vale is determined to attend her funeral in Los Angeles, even though it means selling the one final piece of original artwork in his possession—“the last vestige of what he had once been capable of”—to buy a used car and fund his trip.
Nicholas Litchfield’s full review of Smoke City is available on the Colorado Review’s Center for Literary Publishing website.