Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review - Jerome Peterson's Thumb Flagging

Thumb Flagging by Jerome Peterson
Published by: Eloquent Books
Book Provided by the Author
Publication Date: March 31st, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 410 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Jay Patterson has issues. The only boy and the youngest of a brood of five sisters he suffers from spoiled brat syndrome. This shadow occasionally rears it's selfish head now and again but he wants to control it. Willy is Jaybirdy's friend and he thinks he has the cure... hitchhiking. A way of life where you are at the mercy of those who pick you up and all you can do is have the proper presentation while hitching on the side of the road to achieve the more desirable rides, because one bad ride is all it takes. Willy convinces his crackerjack friend that the time is right for him to learn the ways of the concrete diva. "Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road" to live the American Mythology of freedom. The next day, slightly hungover, they take to the Arizona highway and byways to visit Jay's sister in Durango, Colorado. While waiting to be chosen by one of the multitude of cars that pass them, Willy imparts his knowledge and experience to Jay. How it's all about the attitude, posture and letting go, as Willy likes to cry out: "Me is free of identity!" Jay also observes that the way Willy sticks his thumb out with a little jaunty move it looks like a flag blowing in the breeze... and Thumb Flagging is born.

On their way to Durango they encounter many an interesting fellow. From a cowboy who holds more sadness in his heart then Jay can bear, to a preacher's wife who wants to know if Jay believes in love at first sight, to the scariest knife wielding crazy you could imagine, Petrie Sykes, to monument obsessed Native Americans, they meet every facet of humanity on the concrete diva. But between the good rides and the bad they arrive at Jay's sister's house unannounced. While she isn't pleased they have a fun night out and Willy and Jay hook up with some girls and they head back to Arizona in the morning flush with victory. On their return they plan to head back to work but they've been suspended because they didn't show up due to thumb flagging. Their solution is to take to the open road once more to while away their three day suspension.

Jay gets the crazy idea from seeing Bob Dylan's house in the newspaper that they should head to Malibu and see if they could meet his idol. There would be no greater homage to the man then thumb flagging to meet him. This leg of the journey is predominately peopled with a pro golfer, Trent Love, a psychic, Celeste, and a mentally handicapped man, Raymond, who has issues with some seagulls. The ominous Sykes also makes an appearance with a mysterious woman now by his side. Celeste rattles their cages and makes them come to some harsh conclusions about themselves. Jay decides that he must keep his spoiled brat child of a shadow under control or he will take those he cares for down with him. While Willy becomes reckless and decides they should be true hobos and illegally ride the rails before he confesses he has a son and a girl back in Maine and he thinks the time has come to return to them. Before he leaves Arizona they learn of Trent Love's horrible murder and they know it's Sykes. Willy's parting advice is to not tell the cops because Sykes would know it's them. Jay breaks this promise.

Summer comes and Jay has decided it's time to thumb flag his way to Maine to visit Willy and his son Hudson. With his trusty huskote, Nanook, he takes to the road. From preachers to servicemen he makes it across the Mississippi no longer being the pupil but the preacher himself. Jay has more confidence and Willy's knowledge to impart. Once in his home state of Illinois he finds himself perfectly paired with another thumb flagger, Chloe, who joins him on his journey. Chloe has a much more energetic and dance happy attitude to flagging with her trusty tape recorder blaring out Christmas Carols in July, which masks her emotional baggage. But there's a shadow, not his own demons, but Sykes and Mona are following them, knowing it was Jay who ratted them out to the police. Are they safe? Is Willy and his family safe? Is Chloe the answer to all Jay's questions? Can Jay just live with how things turn out and embrace the acceptance and detachment that Willy taught while they traveled this great land?

Broken into three sections this book slowly builds, creating a portrait of America and the humanity that dwells within. The first section is dominated by Willy as he imparts his wisdom to Jay and teaches him the ways of the concrete diva. The second section is more a journey of equals, where Willy is more a trusty companion then the driving force of their first journey. The third section is strictly Jay's journey and his acceptance of the life he finds. While I enjoyed the first two sections with Willy, who is a very humorous belief spouting traveler, it wasn't until Jay's journey that I became invested in the characters. Willy's humor and rhetoric act as a shield, so while you appreciate him, you don't really empathize or relate, unlike Jay. Jaybirdy is vulnerable and more relatable. Plus, I'll put this right out there, I'm a sucker for Nanook, who's such a sweet, smart dog. Also, as I've always said, look to how people treat their animals, and the bond that exists between Nanook and Jay shows the quality of person he is.

The two aspects of the book that thoroughly engrossed me in the third part was the Sykes mystery and Chloe. The first two sections were just as much about the journey as the destination, in fact the destination did not really matter in the end. Whereas in this final section, while the journey is just as important as the previous sections, the destination is even more so because of the Sykes/Mona factor and the Chloe factor. Can Jay stop this devious couple and protect his friend he is going to see while also winning the hand of the fair maiden before journey's end? It made me veritably fly through the final 200 pages.

As a final rumination I will say that I have many similarities to Jay's issues he has which he uses the highway as therapy for. I would never think of taking the action he did but I can see the benefit of taking him out of his comfort zone and how this forces him to grow up. This is a true American coming of age story where Jay's inhibitions are overcome up the siren call of the road. I have never felt an urge to just head to the nearest embankment and stick out my hand, but I have friends who have and who valued this experience as part of their lives. For those who would never or those who have this book is a great read. It has a little bit of everything and just might make you want to take out your map and see where the road might lead as passenger or driver.

Remember you can enter to win a signed copy of this book until December 20th!


This sounds like an interesting coming of age story. Thanks for the excellent review.

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