Book Review

Highway by Donald O'Donovan 
(Open Books 2011)
Review by Susie Duncan Sexton

Living in a dying town with few restaurants, we frequent an establishment which originated some 30 years back, propelled by an Amish-inspired bill of fare and once the haunt of the after-church crowd such as the well-dressed elderly and the tackily-garbed over-populated tribes of rural families.  Then the truck-stop just across the road from this dining “palace” closed about six years ago now, and the checkered nature of the ever-loyal fundamentalists who exercised their narrow-minded control over the allowance of smoking (no lighting up until after 4 o’clock) tentatively and awkwardly nearly blended with the disgruntled transplanted trucker crowd is an absolute hoot.  For convenience’s sake, we pass the non-nicotine crowd as if we are porters shuffling down a narrow aisled netherworld to join the wicked smoking crowd.
We over-hear tales reminiscent of those of Donald O’Donovan in his novel, “Highway” -- nearly thrice per week.  However, narrator O’Donovan speaks of “toothpicks dancing in mouths” and authoritatively of dysfunctional families (“foolish, funny in head, not right”) and lost opportunities and the seedier side of the vagabond’s life and references Dostoevsky, James Joyce, and Thomas Hardy while transporting us about the country.  We have actually listened to one of his “fictional” phrases repetitively:  “I’m a goddamn truck driver -- I’ve been to every town in the U.S.” several times a table or two away from ourselves – simultaneously whining and swaggering in tone.
However, “schmeckle” and “propounded” and “lascivious billboards” or a “shimmering mirage of Dairy Queens and dissolving mountain peaks” would shock us to hear.  We must read novels composed in a fictional style by those who have lived and endured such experiences and adventures and boredom on the road while navigating innumerable ribbons of highways and from the astute minds of those who possess observational skills coupled with the sheer genius to transport us beside themselves in the truck’s cab.
Nestled near a tiny “downtown” south of our HIGHWAY 30 which slices through the northern tip of our community and runs right past the WAL-MART which massacred all local business, we realize somebody HAS to deliver pianos, livestock, retail goods, but not until lately have we dined with such souls.  Thus, rather well-armed to comprehend where this script-writing, womanizing, philosophizing dreamer may be chauffeuring us toward, the E-book seemed like a busman’s holiday to this reader.
About Tuesday, I shall return to the red-neck-tinged wannabe-“Deerhunter”(s)’ Algonquin Club knowing more about these fellows than even they themselves might.  For example, tidbits stuck with me, such as: “99% turnover in the trucking industry” and “It’s no picnic out there—it’s a hard life” and that lawns CAN be visualized by guys, behind the steering wheels of rigs, as “absinthe-green”!
O’Donovan’s discussion of a Singer Sewing Machine controversy -- deeply imbedded within familial consciousness -- causing the droning humming of one tune only, “What might have been…”, seemed perfectly positioned near the story’s conclusion and explains the narrator’s perpetual youthful yet prescient quest to ride relentlessly on the back of his childhood friend, a treasured, wooden, red-wheeled toy named “Butchie Bear”!   Shades of that fabulous classic “The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence!  No fooling!

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Pack your bags, settle into the cab, turn on the CB and get ready for a long haul. Highway by Donald O'Donovan is the road trip you always imagined but never took!
Greg Heath reviews
Tarantula Woman
by Donald O'Donovan

"TARANTULA WOMAN is a book which reeks of sex. And it's not sanitised, airbrushed sex, either - it's animalistic, sometimes violent sex, described by a narrator who lives in a world of whorehouses, drunkenness and hopeless dreams. But what a narrator Jerzy Mulvaney is: you can open this book at virtually any page and find a series of effortlessly convincing phrases, transporting you to 'the Real Mexico', with 'the pulse of the music, the drinks poured down the gullet...the heat-damp-touch-throb excitement, the gut-level sex-joy, and the trumpets of the mariachis showering despair over it all.'

For the most part, Jerzy's story is brilliantly told, and the range of characters we meet are never less than fascinating, from Angel Mike, the macho bartender, to Reymundo, the cross-dressing hairdresser, to Ysela, the deeply religious prostitute from whom the novel gets its title. It's only towards the middle of the book, where an incongruous 'dear reader' style of narration appears on occasion, that O'Donovan breaks the spell he has cast.

That's not a major criticism by any means and, a couple of minor structural issues notwithstanding, it's the only one I really have. The 'heroes of love' that populate this gritty and philosophical novel make it one of the most grimly entertaining things I've read for some time, and I'll be recommending it widely."—Gregory Heath, author of THE ENTIRE ANIMAL and Thoughts of Maria

Learn more about TARANTULA WOMAN by Donald O'Donovan at