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Sunland: A Novel (WEST WORD FICTION) Hardcover – October 14, 2013
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At 33, former high-school English teacher Sid Dulaney is a prescription drug mule serving the residents of Tucson retirement village Paleo del Sol, which he calls “twenty acres of planned death.” It all started after he moved from Massachusetts to care for his beloved Nana (who brought him up after his father died young, and his bereft mother moved to Alaska), and he learned how much cheaper Nana’s meds were across the border. But when Nana has a stroke, and her living expenses increase, Sid reconsiders the suggestion that he bring people across the border, too. And then a “wannabe vaquero Mafioso” starts leaning on Sid to pay him a business “tax.” Waters, author of the story collection, Desert Gothic (2007), sneaks some serious issues into what is most often a lighthearted, sometimes zany, account of a compassionate man who cares about his elderly clients, keeps meticulous records of the meds he supplies them, and genuinely enjoys their company. And then there’s the giraffe that needs to cross the border . . . An entertainingly offbeat first novel. --Michele Leber
“This offbeat, droll debut novel from Reno, Nev., native Waters, author of the collection Desert Gothic¸ concerns a disillusioned 30-something man’s struggles to put his life back together after a relationship goes awry . . . Though occasionally too quirky for its own good, this is a diverting narrative a of a young man’s roundabout path to finding his way again.” —Publishers Weekly
“Waters, author of the story collection Desert Gothic (2007), sneaks some serious issues into what is most often a lighthearted, sometimes zany, account of a compassionate man . . . An entertainingly offbeat first novel.” —Booklist
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Sidney is immeaditely likeable for the same reason that his character is put at odds throughout the novel. He's a drug smuggler--but he does it for a good cause. He pays the bill for his grandmother's residency at her retirement village. In fact, he provides for the other elderly in the community as well, by bringing them medications from Mexico at a much lower cost than the bank account-draining rates at pharmacies on US soil. Picaresque protagonists are rogues, rascals, wanderers, and criminally-involved. Sidney is much more.
If a novelist can be evaluated on their control of scene and corresponding emotional wieght versus page count, than Don Waters has hit the jackpot. Chapters are short and terse. Dialogue is punchy and rarely expository. Backstory is given in doses. The supporting cast is drawn vividly and the individuals are all unique. Yet each moment has a deeper purpose of exploring Sidney's mental state, current circumstance, and history.
Sidney is witty himself, in his first-person narration and also in dialogue like when he says, "First piece of property I've ever owned," referring to a gravesite he has just purchased.
I was particulary fond of the sub-plot involving Juliet, Sidney's ex. Her character comes through in brief voicemail messages and in Sidney's war-torn memories.
Moreso, the ending of Part One left me breathless and sold me hook, line, and sinker on the novel's second half.
Read this book. You will quickly become invested in Sidney's heartfelt character, learn some about border politics, and take an incredible journey.