Jake Preston is an American nomad, wandering the back roads of America, staying high while maintaining a self-imposed exile from family and friends. His troubled childhood—including an abusive alcoholic mother who committed suicide—left Jake in therapy, hospitalized, his senses numbed by Thorazine; he broke away in high school at the end of his senior year and hasn’t looked back. This stark coming of age tale follows Jake from runaway teen and alcoholic drifter into sobriety and reluctant, emerging adulthood. This debut novel compares the romance, heartache and loneliness of life on the road with the difficulty of recovery from drug and alcohol abuse In coming to terms with his new and tenuous sobriety, Jake is finally forced to face up to the various family issues he has run from his whole life.
Jake lives on his wits and the little money he can earn when he finds work. Since age seventeen he’s been traveling the back roads of America’s vast landscape, striving to comprehend his solitary existence and that “dark, hard place” inside himself. He pitches camp in every town where he can find work or a woman who pays him attention. During the novel, he works for a construction company in California, runs a press at a cylinder plant, roughnecks in Wyoming and picks up cans in Texas, all the while searching for solace in the bottom of a bong and a beer can.
As the book opens we find Jake at 22, on the shoulder of Route 99 with a $2 duffel bag slung over his shoulder and $15 in his pockets, heading south from Fresno into the San Joaquin Valley. In Kingsburg, Jake finds work and meets Teresa, a young Mexican girl with whom he temporarily settles down. Burdened by the commitment of her pregnancy and their subsequent marriage, Jake succumbs once again to the lure of the road. After washing up broke in Wyoming, he finds a good-paying job as a roughneck, but events and his continuing struggle with drugs and alcohol lead to another hasty exit.
More miles, menial jobs, and years leave an aging Jake losing his battle against alcoholism. After hitting bottom in Texas, he begins a slow journey of reconciliation and acceptance. While facing his demons –loneliness, depression, and a morbid desire to use—and staying clean, he ultimately confronts a family responsibility that would have found the old Jake gone. The resolution of this dilemma tests his mettle and heightens the prospects of his fragile sobriety.