Thursday, May 20, 2010

A rollicking first novel from Doug Keister


Perhaps best known for his beautifully photographed books on Bungalows and classic travel trailers, Chico's Doug Keister has pulled up his sleeves and written himself a yarn.

Told by one Clarence (Chick) Corbett out of Gerlach, in the northern Nevada desert, "Desiree" ($15.97 in paperback from, introduces larger-than-life characters and an international smuggling operation. Chick, in his early twenties, writes an "apology" at the start of the book. "A lot of it's true, that's for sure. Some of it's a bit of stretch. And some of it's an outright lie."

Like Desiree herself. "My feelings are pretty simple," Chick writes. "I mostly feel either good or bad. Lately though, I've added a feeling. I think I'm going to call that feeling, confused. . . . I started feeling that way after I met a woman named Desiree. That's Des-er-ay." She had broken into his cabin. There was also another guy there, a dead man. "I killed him," says Desiree.

She was dressed as a lady of the night, "a five-foot-six-inch angel with flowing red hair the color of sunset, large liquid green eyes and skin as smooth and soft as an old pair of Levis. . . . She was wearing this thing that looked as though she'd been poured into it. I think my hat had more material in it than that dress. . . ."

But Desiree is not what she seems, and there unfolds a tale that involves the FBI, nefarious operations out of Beijing and Hong Kong, a raft of bad guys, and a mysterious powder. It's a fast-paced hoot.

Gerlach has "just one gas station, five bars and 150 citizens occupying pretty much all the available notches on the evolutionary ladder." Uncle Ray sleeps "suspended by gravity boots." There's also Elwood LeFoote, "a grizzled Basque of indeterminate age" who herds sheep with a dog named Phydeaux and Strawberry Finches that live in his capacious beard. And Chick's best friend, Tom Twotrees, "half Navajo and half Paiute," who eschews pants in favor of "a strategically placed badger pelt."

Maybe this quote from Mark Twain, on the back cover of the book, sums it up: "Douglas Keister is a masterful storyteller. If I was alive, I'm sure I'd recommend this book."

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