Book Review: “Yesterday Road” by Kevin Brennan

I’m a sucker for stories with amnesiac protagonists. Mostly, this is because of video games like Planescape: Torment which uses this device to create a sprawling, philosophical tale of self-discovery. After that, I was hooked on the idea of a story about someone who can’t remember their own past, and so I was happy to see that this novel, by the great Kevin Brennan, uses this device.

Jack, the protagonist of Yesterday Road, suffers from a form of memory loss that causes him to forget almost everything he knows each day. All he really remembers is that he’s looking for his daughter, who he thinks is named Linda, and that he needs to head “back east.” Other than that, it’s pretty much a blank slate for him after a day or two.

Along his odyssey, Jack meets plenty of interesting characters who help him on his vague quest, from a 31 year-old man with Down Syndrome to a middle-aged diner waitress. He also meets some less than savory characters as well, including drug dealers and carjackers. All of it leads to a wild road trip–there’s always a road trip in Brennan tales–that goes to a lot of places, both physically and spiritually. There is plenty of humor and plenty of tragedy in these pages; and Brennan’s gorgeous prose evokes all the emotions flawlessly.

Whenever people ask me to define literary fiction, I point to Brennan’s works. To me, he captures what it means to tell a story that fits no specific genre, but instead lets the reader meet people and learn their stories, almost like reading an account of something that really happened. He is a master of the craft, pure and simple. And Yesterday Road contains some of his finest work. A story that asks us to empathize with and understand some deeply wounded but resilient people, to get to know them, and to share in their world.

It’s all fiction, of course. But Brennan makes it feel real. It’s like magic, and when you read Yesterday Road, and follow Jack as he tries to recover some of his memories, you’ll find some of your own bubbling to the surface. Like Warren Zevon once sang, “We had to take that long, hard road / to see where it would go.” Every book really is the reader’s as much as it is the writer’s, but it’s the writer’s job to know what words to use to draw the emotions out of us. And Kevin Brennan can do it with the best of them. Yesterday Road is unforgettable and deserves to be widely read.


    1. The next-to-last sentence of this post was originally that, but then I remembered there’s this guy Paxson who’s pretty good too… 😉

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