From the Publisher: Luke Thacker is a drifting hobo in Depression-era America, riding the rails of the nation and surviving by crumbs and hope. Along the way he learns the iconography of transients—the Hobo Code—better than anyone else and deciphers a secret that thrusts him into Athanasia, the middle ground of memories. He learns that Athanasia exists around us, a realm in which the deceased persevere by how they are remembered, and the memories Luke meets will do anything to not ever be forgotten, whether by trickery, violence, or daring.
Luke learns, too, that what’s remembered yesterday is not always the same as what will be remembered tomorrow, and he sets off to keep alive the memories of those he loves in the way a ’bo does best: telling tales of old legends, and making up new ones alike. Fifty years later, the tall crossbucks of Luke Thacker are repeated by homeless King Shaw, who’s struggling to keep Luke’s own legend alive and with it, perhaps, his own.
’Cause it don’t matter if you rob banks with a dead John Dillinger, are hunted over the years by vengeful Earp brothers, or go against the monstrous railroad guard, Smith McCain: When a story is told, all who are part of it become a little stronger.
It’s been awhile since I read a book that has stayed with me as long as this one. I picked this one up mostly because I’ve been fascinated by the Hobo Code since reading about something similar in The Adventure of the Dancing Men by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The idea that it is a secret code that leads to an alternate reality is fascinating, and the alternate reality, Athanasia, is utterly remarkable.
There is so much to unpack with this story, which, really, is about stories and how they are used to keep memories alive. Storytelling goes back to the earliest days of humans, where people used stories as a way to remember and to teach. Guignard uses that in a cautionary way when describing the inhabitants of Athanasia and how their actions cross over from memory to real life in very unexpected ways. I was particularly fascinated with the American Revolutionary characters included here, and Guignard’s presentation of how the memories of one particular Founding Father persist was rather frightening.
The commentary on truth and how storytelling is designed to take “truth” and make it bigger is something the reader will think about for a long time. The desire to be remembered is something we all experience, but some need more. In many ways, this story is an allegory for our current rabid social media culture, where people so crave attention that they make up personas and lifestyles just to be noticed and remembered.
This would make an excellent choice for book discussions. Highly recommended.
Publication Date: July 26, 2019
Published By: JournalStone
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy