Davy Rothbart’s new compilation of short stories, “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas,” is like being in love for the first time: full of joy and energy with twinges of humiliation and tragedy. Rothbart broke into the pop-culture scene in June 2001 with Found Magazine, an annual publication that’s made up of stuff people find, such as love letters, birthday cards or kids’ homework.
When Rothbart visited Anchorage in August 2004 as part of his “Slapdance Across America Tour,” I was hooked. I started scouring Anchorage for found notes, lists and doodles, hoping one would be the perfect find. What appeared to be trash could be a window into a stranger’s life and personality.
A few months later Rothbart appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and presented one of my very own finds that I had given him when he visited. What can I say? I’m now a big fan of his work.
“Lone Surfer” comprises eight short stories all from the first-person point of view. Each story is about a different man in gritty situations. The settings are often overlooked places: federal prison, the deserted cross-country highway, the seedy Mexican border bar and brothel. The characters are the underdogs and black sheep of society. It’s as though Rothbart took the finds from his magazines and brought them to life by weaving his personality and imagination through them. In each story, Rothbart seems to put on a different mask and enter a world all too familiar to him, yet seemingly distant and unknown.
Rothbart writes with youthful exuberance and although his characters are romantic and sometimes extreme, they are down-to-earth and the dialogue is realistic.
In the first story, “Lie Big,” a character named Mitey-Mike is a pathological liar who can’t even be truthful to his best friend and sidekick, the narrator of the story. Mitey-Mike’s lies get him into crazy situations that leave the reader with a smile on his face and somewhat of a sad heart. After Mitey-Mike steals the narrator’s girlfriend and ends up dying in a car wreck, there are no more lies and the narrator learns a bit of truth about his best friend.
Most of Rothbart’s stories are an amalgam of humor and sadness. The most polished of all the stories is “Maggie Fever,” where a young man’s grandpa forces him to steal luggage from the airport in order to find enough money to pay the veterinarian bills for a dying cat. The kid ends up finding a girl’s backpack with journals and mix tapes inside. Intrigued by looking into a stranger’s secrets, the narrator reads the journals and listens to the tapes, which belong to someone named Maggie. He ends up falling in love with Maggie just by reading her journals over and over and listening to her play guitar on a tape marked “Shitty Shit.” When he tries to return her belongings, he discovers she lives in a poor part of the city and she is nothing like what he expected.
Humor often leads to disappointment in Rothbart’s book but it makes the reader cling to the characters even more.
As a whole, Rothbart unearths the doldrums of everyday life so the reader can see how beautiful it can be. “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas” is a diamond in the rough that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s a fast, fun read and it comes from the heart.
“The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas” can be purchased at amazon.com for $9.60.