The Lost Highway
David Adams Richards
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Buy *The Lost Highway* by David Adams Richards online

The Lost Highway
David Adams Richards
400 pages
March 2008
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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A thoughtful deliberation on the nature of destiny and fate, this deep, dark, dismal morality tale relates what happens when a vast and rapacious ego ends up justifying a horrible act, and when a desperate man with an unchecked moral compass is eventually driven to the edge of survival and forced to commit acts previously considered unspeakable.

When down-and-out Alex Chapman learns from the owner of the local service station, Burton Tucker, that his despotic great uncle, Jim Chapman, has just won thirteen million dollars, Alex decides that he cannot under any circumstances allow his bitter adversary to collect the money. Over the years, Alex's relationship with his uncle, whom he has nicknamed the "the old man," has been fraught with difficulty, the two warring off and on for twenty years, ever since the boy left the priesthood under what were called "suspicious circumstances."

Recently fired from his job as an ethics tutor at a local university, Alex now ekes out a decrepit existence living in his Uncle's small cabin where he plots and plans and ruminates on his failed life, thinking of ways that he can make it big again. With old Jim Chapman intent on writing him out of the will, Alex is absolutely positive that his Uncle's enmity originates from his long-held dislike of Alex's father, mainly because of how he treated Alex's long-suffering mother.

A self-deluded and fickle character, Alex's ultimate failing is that he really thinks that he has tried to live a life that is both fair and honest. In reality, he's a smug, cocky, self-assured character, a failed intellectual and a total hypocrite. Jim Chapman undoubtedly knows the score and has certainly seen his nephew for what he is - an unadulterated failure who has done his best to ruin the family's fortune.

Haunted by the painful death of his mother and with few expectations, Alex begins to obsess over this money that he considers just too much for an enemy like Jim Chapman. To let Chapman have his winnings would be the end of Alex's life; he would never be able to live down Jim's hubris, nor would he be able to crawl back from the humiliation that Jim would surely unleash upon him within this small, tight knit community.

Adding to Alex's predicament are the feelings he continues to have for the love of his life, Minnie Patch, who suddenly married Sam Patch after Alex confessed his love for her. Perhaps the only way that Alex can guarantee that Minnie will come back to him is to use this moment to entice her. With ideas of a life with Minnie twirling around in his mind like a windstorm, Alex hatches a plan to steal the lotto ticket so that he can hopefully earn back his sweetheart's respect.

When a partner in crime suddenly surfaces in the form of Alex's childhood archrival Leo Bourque, the two form an unlikely enterprise. Leo, too, is a damaged soul, attempting to blackmail Alex with a secret about something Alex did to sabotage Jim Chapman's plowing company. Leo has long admired Alex's education and calling, but when he once bragged about Alex to his wife, his life afterwards began to spiral downhill for a variety of reasons, many of them having to do with a terrible accident that almost crippled him.

While Leo cannot forgive himself for feeling deceived by a man he tried to emulate for a number of years, Minnie's daughter, Amy Patch, now a willful teenager, somehow gets wind of Jim Chapman's winnings, knowing that Jim has a ticket worth a lot of money and that he doesn't even know it.

Steeped in a literary flavor reminiscent of the great Russian classic novels, The Lost Highway is a depressing tale of animosity and bitterness, unrequited love, and all-consuming betrayal. With copious misery and poverty, author David Adams Richards effectively creates a dark and moody atmosphere, but his narrative is often repetitive, the author more concerned about espousing his complex philosophical views on religion, morality, and faith than propelling the actual story forward.

In the end, Alex's poor besotted life unfolds with ridicule heaped on him - the horrible death of his mother, the taunting of kids on the bus when he was a child, and the failure to win over Minnie. All ultimately comes to a devastating climax in an ending riddled with a bitter irony. Unfortunately, it is the aftermath of a violent act with Leo and the total sum of all Alex's plans that end up coming to the single sentence that echoes the noxious deeds of murder: "You have done what you have done."

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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