In his new novel, “On the Road With Del and Louise,” short-story writer Art Taylor sets his narrative cruise control at “breezy” and keeps it there over miles of blacktop and dirt roads from New Mexico to North Dakota, California to North Carolina, with many pit stops in between. Taylor’s jokey title — with its nod to Jack Kerouac’s 1957 classic and its wink at the movie “Thelma & Louise” — promises as much. Nothing too heavy ahead, it seems to say. No really bad guys, no real violence. Just lovable rogues, inept crooks and harmless eccentrics.
All this is seen through the eyes of Louise, who at 28 has already seen a lot. “When I first met Del, he was robbing the 7-Eleven over in Eagle Nest, where I worked at the time,” she recalls. “I laid the Cosmo face down on the counter. I didn’t want to lose my place.” With that cool move, she has us. And Del, too, although he doesn’t know it yet. “I watched him run out toward the pumps . . . admired the way his body moved. . . . I gave him a head start before I dialed 911.” And along with the cash drawer, she gave him her number.
This perfect little scene — part Elmore Leonard, part “Raising Arizona” — launches a whimsical love story. “You could date a loser here if that’s all you’re doing,” Louise’s mother scoffs from back home in North Carolina. But dating is just the beginning. After their first heist together, at an art gallery, our heroes are on the road and on the lam: Del with his moods and his educational aspirations, Louise with her quick wit and her turbulent heart. “I hadn’t been thinking about killing Delwood. Not really,” she admits one year in. “But you know how people sometimes have just had enough.”
Louise hasn’t, of course, had enough because there are five more episodes to come before her adventure closes back home in North Carolina in “Wedding Belle Blues.” Taylor, who frequently reviews for Book World, describes “On the Road With Del and Louise” as “a novel in stories.” The most cartoonish one is an attempted Napa Valley wine robbery, the most satirical is a stint in the California real estate business, and the most sentimental is a kidnapping in North Dakota.
But the conclusion is oddly bland. “Home meant Mama’s wingback chair and the naugahyde La-Z-Boy Daddy left behind,” Louise observes, “and the green gingham couch, one arm frayed silly by the cat we’d had from the time Daddy left until it got hit by the neighbor’s car.” After such a promising start and after all those crazy miles, it’s disappointing to see Del and Louise trading trouble for a quiet life.
Anna Mundow is a freelance journalist and reviewer.
On Thursday, Oct. 1 at 6 p.m., Art Taylor will read from “On the Road With Del and Louise” in the Center for the Arts on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus.
By Art Taylor. Henery Press. 267 pp. Paperback, $15.95