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Wormwood, Nevada Hardcover – December 8, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
A meteorite crashing into the Nevada desert sparks a search for meaning and purpose in Oppegaard's intriguing if flat follow-up to The Suicide Collectors. Tyler and Anna Mayfield move to Wormwood, Nev., looking to escape the postcollege funk that permeated their lives in Nebraska. When a night out at the local bar is interrupted with a massive explosion nearby, the young couple find themselves in the middle of an already off-kilter town going meteor crazy. Tyler, haunted by the disappearance of his older brother years ago, sees booze, weed and fatigue-induced visions of aliens and becomes involved with a group that believes visitors will arrive imminently. Meanwhile, Anna, a former Miss Nebraska, suffers apocalyptic nightmares amid fears that the best years of her life are slipping away. Oppegaard deftly aligns the inner fears and waning hopes of his well-rounded protagonists with the paranormal tremors, but the tension all but dies in the final act as the novel unspools into a disappointingly diffuse anticlimax. (Dec.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Oppegaard's explanation for his use of the clichés of alien life and the clichés of feminine marital ennui is surprising and completely satisfying.
WORMWOOD, NEVADA...is a haunting novel with a vivid setting and memorable characters, a story of cosmic love, loss and yearning. While I haven't read his previous book, THE SUICIDE COLLECTORS, I've added it to my reading list now. --Bookreporter.com
The result is complex and compelling, a book that appeals both for its treatment of the spectacular and its interesting take on its characters' personal growth. --The Rumpus.net
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As they near the town on the second day of the boring drive Tyler nearly crashes their vehicle because he saw something in the back seat; but nothing is there. He continues to see odd beings. He believes are aliens or he else he thinks he is going insane as Anna never sees them. Instead she has nasty nightmares that the end of the world is near although she thinks it is a psychological fear of growing old and no longer able to win the Miss Nebraska beauty pageant. When a meteorite crashes nearby, the townsfolk believe the end has started while Bernie introduces Tyler to a local astronomy club who believe aliens are remaking the world in their image.
This fast-paced science fiction thriller hooks readers from the opening scene when Tyler swears he saw a strange looking essence in the backseat of the car and never slows down although the end seems somewhat less exhilarating than anticipated with the build up. Anna and Tyler are fascinating protagonists as she fears aging and he never recovered from his older brother vanishing years ago. However, ironically in spite of being the leads, neither holds the plot together; instead the town of Wormwood with its isolation serves as the focus. Fans will enjoy David Oppegaard's entertaining thriller as meth labs meet ET.
What attracted me to this novel was actually sampling the first couple of pages after reading the book blurb. It reads more like literary fiction than plot driven science fiction. David Oppegaard’s prose are character focused and deeply immersive. He alternates between Tyler’s point-of-view and Anna’s. He takes his time, and the end result is a real feel for this town and especially for Tyler and Anna. I couldn’t resist this literary beast in science fiction clothing. Unfortunately for Oppegaard, the way the book is presented from the promotional material will mostly attract a science fiction thriller crowd, who will likely be disappointed. Some of the negative reviews seem to reflect exactly this opinion. The literary reader who might really enjoy this, may never even know it exists.
Oppegaard treats the science fiction content in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, giving us the stuff you’d expect from old fashioned pulp magazines or B movies. Don’t expect cutting edge science fiction concepts here, because it isn’t the point. The science fiction elements, the cultists, and even the desolate town itself are mirrors for the yearning inside Tyler and Anna. Tyler has never gotten over the childhood disappearance of his older brother, nor ever stopped wondering what life even means in the light of such an event. Anna is a former beauty queen who feels like the world wants her to apologize for having enjoyed that life, and who fears that the future holds no more than a slow fading away from her former glory.
Tyler and Anna are all of us at some point in our life, questioning what it all means. The coming of the aliens seems like the moment when all such questions will finally be answered. But then they are gone, the next day dawns, and all the old questions are still there. In the end, I believe Oppegaard is telling us that there are no such universal answers, and that we must each quest for our own meaning in our own way. And that the quest is a lifetime journey with no real end. All in all a very worthwhile read, assuming you understand what you’re getting yourself into, and not getting yourself into, with this novel.
During the long drive, with his wife asleep in the car, Tyler glances in the rearview mirror of his Volvo and catches a glimpse of a figure with "dark, almond-shaped eyes staring back at him, cold and unblinking." When Tyler looks again, it has disappeared. Just who is this figure? And why does it remind him of his brother, Cody, and Cody's disappearance all those years ago, which still consumes Tyler to this day?
Tyler assumes his backseat vision has occurred because he is overtired, but the appearance of the odd passenger is just the start of a strange, cosmic adventure for Tyler and Anna. When the couple arrives in the middle of the desert, they are greeted by Tyler's Aunt Bernice (aka Bernie) and her lovable dog, Roscoe. Bernie is the person who got word to Tyler about the teaching job in Wormwood, and she has invited him and Anna to move in with her until they can save money to buy a place of their own.
Bernie is a chain-smoking, hard-drinking cafeteria worker --- one of the "Hairnets" --- at the local high school. She has lived in the desert for decades and knows how it affects visitors and even long-time residents. Not long after the couple's arrival, she warns them that the "heat gets to people." But the two seem to be doing well enough: Tyler begins teaching summer school remedial composition, albeit to suspicious and unwilling students, and Anna finds a job at a local casino.
Things begin to change, however, when a meteor streaks across the sky. It lands in the middle of the Taco Thunder parking lot and leaves a deep crater. The blast from the landing propels Mr. Diaz, the owner of the restaurant, into a dumpster blocks away. Mr. Diaz is in shock, but thankfully he survives. After he returns home from the hospital, he abandons his restaurant to become a sentinel at the crash site, warning the denizens of Wormwood that "the end is near."
Things turn deadly in Wormwood after Tyler and a new friend strike out in search of meteorite fragments and witness a raid on a meth lab. And it isn't long after the meteorite lands that Tyler's visions return and Anna's nightmares begin...along with a feeling of impending doom that pervades her waking hours.
WORMWOOD, NEVADA is my first introduction to David Oppegaard's work. It is a haunting novel with a vivid setting and memorable characters, a story of cosmic love, loss and yearning. While I haven't read his previous book, THE SUICIDE COLLECTORS, I've added it to my reading list now.
--- Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt
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