Jeffrey Ricker | Detours (Bold Stroke)

book detoursIf you can ignore the nagging questions, you’ll enjoy the read.

This one requires a disclosure. I have known Jeffrey Ricker for over 10 years and consider him a good friend. He has also, on occasion, written for this magazine. That said, what follows is my objective review of his book.

Detours, the debut novel from Jeffrey Ricker, is a good first effort. Overall, it’s an easy and enjoyable read, one that keeps you turning the pages to find out what happens.

The book follows Joel Patterson coping with the aftermath of his mother’s (seemingly) sudden death. When we first meet Joel, he is reflecting upon the final four days of a solo vacation in London. While browsing at a secondhand bookstore, he met Philip, a seemingly perfect creature who can only exist in fiction. The two, of course, begin an affair—is it love?—that finds them in each other’s company for Joel’s remaining vacation.

Upon his return to the States, Joel learns his mother has died of cancer, a condition she successfully hid from her husband and only son. He heads to his childhood home in Maine to help his father with funeral details, only to find his mother had already planned everything (no surprise to either of them).

There are a lot of nice parts in the book, as Ricker’s prose is smooth and easygoing. He makes a terrific decision to incorporate Joel’s departed mother as a main character. She appears to her son in Maine and soon becomes a near-constant companion and voice of reason. The presence of her character is quite welcome, especially to the reader; while generally sarcastic, she lends a clarity to Joel’s direction that is otherwise lacking. The woman’s insight and guidance is both humorous and necessary for our protagonist’s development; we enjoy her company nearly as much as her son does. (Through a discovery at home and conversations with his mother, Joel also uncovers a long-held secret about her life, though one I’m not entirely sure is necessary or relevant to the story.)

Without a real plan, Joel calls in to work and spontaneously quits his job. At dinner with his dad, Joel reconnects with high school acquaintance Lincoln, brother of the only girl he had ever dated. Lincoln invites Joel over for dinner during which he appears both gentlemanly and interesting. As he had with Philip, our narrator falls quickly into bed.

It turns out mom had one final wish: for Joel to drive his parents’ RV across the country to California, where the vehicle’s buyer awaits. As he is preparing to leave, Lincoln arrives, bag in hand. Apparently, in his drunkenness the night before, Joel invited his new friend along for the ride, a fact which he conveniently has forgotten. By this point, Joel views Lincoln as more annoyance than interest, although the cause and effect here is left to the imagination of the reader.

But what about Philip, you ask? Is Joel intentionally trying to sabotage what could be a very real thing, long distance be damned? While Joel is an interesting character, one you will care about, he seems sometimes static, unwilling—or unable—to address his life, never mind his grief.

Throughout the novel, illogic abounds. Why is it that no mention of cell phones is made until halfway through? Up until then, all calls had been made to land lines—including Philip’s call to Joel’s workplace, where he is not. (Conveniently, Joel’s best friend Carrie also works there and relays the message to him, although not until she arrives in Maine for the funeral.) Why does Lincoln not bring his cell phone on the trip? Why does Joel begin a relationship with Lincoln when his thoughts obviously lie with Philip?

During the trip, Ricker nearly beats us over the head with Lincoln’s faults, among them extreme selfishness and an excessive use of marijuana. Yet—we learn, well after the fact—that Joel has continued to sleep with him. Um…why? At a layover in Las Vegas, where Lincoln’s sister—and Joel’s former girlfriend—is a dancer, Joel learns of the longstanding rift between the siblings and sees Lincoln’s anger and destructiveness firsthand.

Mid-trip, Joel finally returns Philip’s call, only to learn his paramour will be in America in a week for business—conveniently, in San Francisco, where Joel himself will be. How will their reunion go, now that Lincoln has muddied the picture? Will Philip continue to be the perfect creature Ricker has made him out to be? And if there is hope for the pair, how will they make the transcontinental relationship work?

If you can ignore the nagging questions, you’ll enjoy the read. Despite his often seemingly inexplicable decisions, Joel nonetheless comes off as a sympathetic character, one you will root for. I look forward to watching Ricker develop his talents in future efforts. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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