by Barry Gifford


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A woman and her young son travel by car through the southern and midwestern United States in this heartbreakingly spare novel-in-dialogue. As the mother drives, she and the boy, Roy, trade impressions of the landscape and of life, in the process approaching an understanding of each other and their shared inner landscape.
"Mom, can we drive to Wyoming?" "You mean now?" "Uh-huh. Is it far?" "Very far. We're almost to Georgia." "Can we go someday?" "Sure, Roy, we'll go." "We won't tell anyone, right, Mom?" "No, baby, nobody will know where we are." "And we'll have a dog." "I don't see why not." "From now on when anything bad happens, I'm going to think about Wyoming. Running with my dog." "It's a good thing, baby. Everybody needs Wyoming." —from Wyoming

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781583226360
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication date: 05/12/2004
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.49(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.28(d)

About the Author

The author of more than forty works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, which have been translated into over twenty-five languages, BARRY GIFFORD writes distinctly American stories for readers around the globe. From screenplays and librettos to his acclaimed Sailor and Lula novels, Gifford’s writing is as distinctive as it is difficult to classify. Born in the Seneca Hotel on Chicago’s Near North Side, he relocated in his adolescence to New Orleans. The move proved significant: throughout his career, Gifford’s fiction—part-noir, part-picaresque, always entertaining—is born of the clash between what he has referred to as his “Northern Side” and “Southern Side.” Gifford has been recipient of awards from PEN, the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Library Association, the Writers Guild of America and the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. His novel Wild at Heart was adapted into the 1990 Palme d’Or-winning film of the same name. Gifford lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


WE'RE REALLY FINE when we're together, aren't we? I mean, when it's just the two of us."

    "Uh-huh. How long till we get to the reptile farm?"

    "Oh, less than an hour, I think."

    "Will they have a giant king cobra, like on the sign?"

    "I'm sure they will, sweetheart."

    "I hope it's not asleep when we get there. Mom, do cobras sleep?"

    "Of course, snakes have to sleep just like people. At least I think they do."

    "Do they think?"

    "Who, baby?"

    "Snakes. Do they have a brain?"

    "Yes. They think about food, mostly. What they're going to eat next in order to survive."

    "They only think about eating?"

    "That's the main thing. And finding a warm, safe place to sleep."

    "Some snakes live in trees, on the branches. That can't be so safe. Birds can get them."

    "They wait on the limbs for prey, some smaller creature to come along and the snake can snatch it up, or drop on it and wrap itself around and squeeze it to death or until it passes out from not having enough air to breathe. Then the snake crushes it and devours it."

    "You're a good driver, aren't you, Mom? You like to drive."

    "I'm a very good driver, Roy. I like to drive when we go on long trips together."

    "How far is it from Key West to Mississippi?"

    "Well, to Jackson, where we're going, it's a pretty long way. Several hundred miles. We go north through Florida, then across Alabama to Mississippi and up to Jackson, which is about in the middle of the state."

    "Will Dad be there?"

    "No, honey. Your dad is in Chicago. At least I think he is. He could be away somewhere on business."

    "Who are we going to see in Mississippi?"

    "A good friend of Mommy's. A man named Bert."

    "Why is Bert in Mississippi?"

    "That's where he lives, baby. He owns a hotel in Jackson."

    "What's the name of the hotel?"

    "The Prince Rupert."

    "Is it like the Casa Azul?"

    "I think Bert's hotel is bigger."

    "You've never seen it?"

    "No, only a photo of it on a postcard that Bert sent."

    "How old is Bert?"

    "I'm not sure. I guess about forty."

    "How old is Dad?"

    "Forty-three. He'll be forty-four next month, on the tenth of April."

    "Will he invite me to his birthday party?"

    "I don't know if your dad will have a birthday party, Roy, but I'm sure he would invite you if he did."

    "Some dinosaurs had two brains, Mom, do you know that?"

    "Two brains?"

    "Yeah, there's a picture in my dinosaur book that Dad sent me that shows how the really big ones had a regular-size brain in their head and a small one in their tail. The really big ones. It's because it was so far from their head to their tail there was too much for only one brain to think about, so God gave them two."

    "Who told you God gave dinosaurs two brains?"


    "Your grandmother doesn't know anything about dinosaurs."

    "What about Bert?"

    "What about him?"

    "Do you think he knows about dinosaurs?"

    "You'll have to ask him, baby. I don't really know what Bert knows about."

    "You said he was your friend."

    "Yes, he is."

    "Why don't I know him?"

    "He's kind of a new friend. That's why I'm taking you to Jackson, to meet Bert, so he can be your friend, too."

    "Is Bert a friend of Dad's?"

    "No baby. Dad doesn't know Bert."

    "How far now to the reptile farm?"

    "We're pretty close. The last sign said twenty-six miles. I can't go too fast on this road."

    "I like this car, Mom. I like that it's blue and white. like the sky, except now there's dark clouds."

    "It's called a Holiday."

    "We're on a holiday now, right?"

    "Yes, Roy, it's a kind of holiday. Just taking a little trip, the two of us."

    "We're pals, huh?"

    "We sure are, baby. You're my best pal."

    "Better than Bert ?"

    "Yes, darling, better than anyone else. You'll always be my favorite boy."

    "Look, Mom! We must be really close now."

    "The sign said, 'Ten minutes to Cobratown.'"

    "If it rains hard, will the snakes stay inside?"

    "It's only raining a little, Roy. They'll be out. They'll all be out, baby, don't worry. There'll be cobras crawling all over Cobratown, just for us. You'll see."

Chinese Down the Amazon

WHAT DO YOU THINK, BABY? Does this place look all right to you?"

    "Is it safe?"

    "Safe as any motel room in Alabama can be, I guess. At least it looks clean."

    "And it doesn't stink of old cigarettes, like the last one."

    "We can stay here."

    "I'm tired, Mom."

    "Take off your shoes and lie down, baby. I'll go out and bring back something for dinner. I'll bet there's a Chinese restaurant in this town. There's Chinese everywhere, Roy, you know that? Even down the Amazon it said in the National Geographic. I can get some egg rolls and pork chow mein and egg foo yung. What do you think, baby? Would you like some chow mein and egg foo yung? I'll just make a quick stop in the bathroom first. Out in a jiffy."

    "Could I get a Coca-Cola?"

    "Oh! Oh, Christ! This is disgusting! Come on, baby, we' re moving."

    "What happened, Mom?"

    "Just filth! The bathroom is crazy with cockroaches! Even the toilet's filled with bugs!"

    "I don't see any bugs on the bed."

    "Those kind come out later, when the light's off. Get off of there! The beds are probably infested, too. Let's go!"

    "I've got to put on my shoes."

    "You can do it in the car. Come on!"


    "Yes, Roy?"

    "Could I get a hamburger instead of Chinese?"

Table of Contents

Chinese Down the Amazon7
Soul Talk13
Saving the Planet27
A Nice Day on the Ocean29
Perfect Spanish31
Roy's World39
Ducks on the Pond47
Sound of the River51
Red Highway55
K.C. So Far (Seconds/Alternate Take)61
Concertina Locomotion65
The Geography of Heaven71
Man andFate75
WhereOsceola Lives77
The Crime of Pass Christian81
Cool Breeze85
Night Owl87
On the Arm93
Look Out Below97
The Up and Up101
Black Space105
Ball Lightning109
Fear and Desire121
God's Tornado125

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