From Away

( 2 )

Overview

"Denny Braintree, a wisecracking loner devoted to model trains, finds himself stranded in late-winter Vermont. His night at the hotel begins with promise, but then his prospective one-night stand walks out on him. Leaving town, Denny is mistaken for lookalike Homer Dumpling, a popular native son who mysteriously disappeared from town three years earlier. Instead of correcting the mistake, Denny dons his new identity as easily as a Vermonter's winter fleece, and a good thing too - the woman he had hoped to sleep with has turned up dead, and Denny

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From Away: A Novel

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Overview

"Denny Braintree, a wisecracking loner devoted to model trains, finds himself stranded in late-winter Vermont. His night at the hotel begins with promise, but then his prospective one-night stand walks out on him. Leaving town, Denny is mistaken for lookalike Homer Dumpling, a popular native son who mysteriously disappeared from town three years earlier. Instead of correcting the mistake, Denny dons his new identity as easily as a Vermonter's winter fleece, and a good thing too - the woman he had hoped to sleep with has turned up dead, and Denny is the chief suspect." As Denny tries to unravel the mystery, he struggles to hide his true identity from Homer's increasingly suspicious circle of family and friends, including Homer's prickly girlfriend. In Denny, David Carkeet has crafted a fast-talking bumbler whose instinct for survival will face the ultimate challenge, with readers cheering him on all the way.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
If Alfred Hitchcock could remake Fargo, it might feel something like Carkeet's comic-absurd latest (after his memoir, Campus Sexpot). Denny Braintree, a writer for model train enthusiast mag The Fearless Modeler, is sidetracked when he wrecks his car while traveling home from an assignment in Vermont. Taken to a Montpelier hotel to spend the night before flying home to Chicago, he meets a drunken woman named Marge who promptly strips and slips into his Jacuzzi. After a quick condom run, Denny returns to find Marge missing. The next morning, two policemen show up at the airport looking for Denny, but they mistake him for a local named Homer Dumpling, who vanished from town three years ago. Denny, now the prime suspect in Marge's disappearance, returns to town as Homer and has a dodgy time fitting into his new role, but when Marge's body turns up and Homer becomes a suspect, Denny's new identity is no safer than his own. It's nutty and pushes the bounds of credulity, but the make or break is Denny: narcissistic, crude and in over his head, he's either charming or terminally annoying. (Mar.)\
Kirkus Reviews
An ebullient middle-aged child who seems incapable of fixing his own breakfast hides his involvement in a suspicious death by a comically preposterous masquerade. Dennis Braintree's adventures in Vermont begin when his car runs off the road and into a ditch, leading him to hail passersby, "Welcome to my crash site!" He winds up at the Ethan Allen Motel in Montpelier, where blind hostess Betsy, whose rooms have been filled by a legislative session, sticks him first in a windowless cubby, then in the room vacated by Mort Shuler. It's here that he meets good-time girl Marge Plongeur, who makes herself at home in his Jacuzzi, sends him out for cigarettes and condoms and then vanishes after apparently swinging so hard from his chandelier that she brings it crashing down on his bed. Except that Marge hasn't just vanished; according to Nick and Lance, a pair of police officers Denny runs into at the airport, she's been pushed off the balcony by whoever rented the room and left footprints outside in the snow. That person, naturally, is Denny, and his goose would be cooked if Nick hadn't taken Denny for his old friend Homer Dumpling, Betsy's nephew, who spent the last three years in Florida. Denny, recently fired from his job at a magazine aimed at model-railroad buffs, sees no reason that he shouldn't accept the role that's just been handed to him, and Carkeet (The Error of Our Ways, 1997, etc.) moves heaven and earth to show how he can get away with the masquerade against all odds-mainly because Denny embraces each new obstacle as a challenge and never shows the slightest fear. Sooner or later, of course, this house of cards has to come tumbling down, but Carkeet's Candide is so winning and hisplotting so deft that the day of reckoning is as graceful as the moment when the juggler catches all five balls without missing a beat.
The Barnes & Noble Review

One thing should be clear from the outset: David Carkeet is not a crime novelist, not in the way we think of the term now. He doesn't set out with a sense of righteous fury to chronicle society's ills, nor does he wish to document murder in all of its transfixing brutality. Instead his touch is lighter, more whimsical, featuring protagonists who, instead of being tortured, are mildly affronted at best. When they find themselves in the crosshairs of the law, they don't mount an outraged crusade, but conduct a parallel investigation of the real culprit of murder that  carries a veneer of the absurd, as if they know how ridiculous it is to play amateur sleuth. And while a crime novel's devil should always be in the details, Carkeet's characters are more often bedevilled by linguistic anomalies, the taste of homemade pie, and the baffling habits of the women they want to woo.

 

Put another way, crime fiction protagonists find murder, while murder finds Carkeet's reluctant sleuths. They aren't looking for trouble, or at least not according to their own occasionally convoluted logic. They want to be liked, but sometimes have a hard time expressing that to others, who misconstrue their habitual complaining as a manifestation of darker emotions. The net result for readers is a sense of being swayed off the expected narrative course into more intriguing, messier byways of human behavior, whose larger mysteries will always dwarf that of who killed whom.

 

Take Jeremy Cook, first introduced in Carkeet's first novel Double Negative (1980), nominated for an Edgar Award and newly reissued by Overlook Press. His entire existence ispockmarked with oddball situations and observations -- after all, his day job as "resident genius" of the Wabash Institute has him considering the curious linguistic incidents of toddlers in the day care center next door. Southern Indiana real estate, evidently, makes for strange bedfellows, never clearer in the makeup of Cook's equally research-minded colleagues, from the uptight piece of human clockwork Walter Wach (about whom Cook comments: "He's not important . . . he just runs the place.") to the bearded, barrel-chested Emory Milke (whom Cook considers his rival in matters of the opposite sex) to harried family man Ed Woeps, whose young son Wally proves to be the bearer of a key clue in the form of a piercing, seemingly inexplicable "m-bwee" sound.

 

One of this delightedfully-named crew will be murdered, his body inconveniently stashed in Jeremy's office, and yet the group will openly theorize about which of them best fits the likely-culprit profile over coffee at a morning meeting or alcohol at that night's party. The investigating officer, Lieutenant Leaf, will suspect everyone and yet give Jeremy a wide berth to go about his business, relaying important details even as other points remain hidden with some Machiavellian flourish. And Jeremy will spend as much time, if not more, trying to discern which of his colleagues secretly thinks he's an asshole and if the new and comely research assistant will transfer her affections from Milke to himself.

 

But the lackadaisical attention to what in another writer's hands would be the center of the plot is part of Double Negative's charm. Unlike Cook, who wants to be liked and to like people but doesn't really know how, or Arthur Stiph, so concerned with his theory that the greatest of friends should really be barely suppressed enemies or "backfriends" that he charts it in extensive detail, Carkeet has his idiosyncratic vision and sticks with it regardless of whether the reader is on board, because by book's end, he or she will be. Why else would he bring Cook back in two subsequent books: The Full Catastrophe (1990) and The Error of Our Ways (1997), whose core mysteries have nothing whatsoever to do with murder? (Both these books will be reissued later this year.)

 

A good litmus test is this description of Cook's semi-daily Grunt Meals, a "single dish, casserole-style, with ground beef as the central ingredient" that, yes, is buttressed by theory: "Cook's philosophy toward eating was starkly realistic. Hunger was a pain that interfered with important things like doing linguistics. Food ended that pain. Food allowed you to get on with it . . . For Cook's purposes, the outstanding virtue of a Grunt Meal was not that it made him grunt . . . but rather that it ensured that he would not want to eat right away again. If ever."

 

Such ruminations figure prominently in Carkeet's first novel in over a decade, From Away, and his first proper mystery since Double Negative. Like Jeremy Cook, Denny Braintree is a little too sure of himself, even as volatile situations would dictate a more cautious, less reckless approach. Unlike Jeremy, Denny's more of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, whether it pertains to his corpulent appearance, his relationship with women, or assuming someone else's identity.

 

Not that it's Denny's fault; it's that a one-night stand in a small Vermont town goes awry ("his sexual outcomes often pivoted on . . . small variables") and in short order, the woman turns up dead, with Denny's name ensuingly broadcast as "a person of interest." But Denny has also been mistaken for one of the town's most beloved figures, Homer Dumpling, long thought to have hightailed it down south three years prior for reasons that remain murky. This, Martin Guerre-like twist suits Denny just fine: he'll just move into Homer's house, connect (or is it reconnect?) with Homer's girlfriend Sarah, and fend off friendly neighbours and police officers who are suspicious of the name Braintree but are blind to the obvious. Surely not all three hundred-plus pound men look or sound alike, and the differences so easily explained away?

 

Even Denny is suspicious at how easy this accidental con is, with his flippant answer to Sarah's genuine bafflement over whether he is, in fact, the real Homer: "I'm your human tool. I'm the physical plant. The maintenance department. And the financing. Or at least I have been. Not anymore though . . . there's a new sheriff in town."

 

But look, another clue comes bubbling to the surface via the book's title. A long absence allows glaring inconsistencies to get smoothed over. A visitor takes on another man's guise, and in the process, learns more about his true nature than he ever could under his real name. With so much ink spilled about real versus imagined, "reality" versus scripted work and plagiarism ceding the way for something both more ambiguous and dangerous, no wonder Carkeet dives so eagerly into the wide terrain of what Denny refers as "altruistic impersonation."

 

When it's no longer an option to be yourself, why not slip into somebody else's welcoming costume, especially when those who ought to know the truth either look the other way or tacitly approve? In examining these behavioral quirks, David Carkeet digs deep into unsettling territory that even the most hard-boiled of crime novels wouldn't dare touch. Affability, it turns out, is the most dangerous trait of all.

 

Sarah Weinman writes "Dark Passages," a monthly online crime fiction column for the Los Angeles Times, and blogs about the genre at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind sarahweinman.com.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590203040
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 3/4/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.24 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

David Carkeet is the author of six novels. Among his honors are an Edgar nomination, a James D. Phelan Award, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was born in Sonora, California, and lives with his wife and two daughters near Montpelier, Vermont.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2010

    Long Live Denny Braintree

    At the center of From Away is the novel's richest accomplishment: the incomparable Denny Braintree. Denny is large and in charge. He's a selfish opportunist. Several of the Vermont locals who meet Denny for the first time think of him as a repellent personality. But there are unexpected and finely realized dimensions to Denny. For one thing, he has an exuberant inner life. His musings are not only funny but they convey an endearing sense of enthusiasm. And beneath Denny's considerable size and bluster is his most revealing aspect: He's a lonely man who keeps getting rejected by others, despite the self-improvements he tries to make. In his quietest moments, he wants to miniaturize the world, as he does with his model trains, and be its benevolent master.

    By the end of this terrific novel Denny has emerged as a highly original, dare-I-say heroic character. Long Live Denny Braintree!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    fascinating

    At night Denny Braintree was driving on the icy road going to fast for conditions when he lost control; his skid left the car rental damaged and he missing his flight. After dealing with a State Trooper and EMS, Denny gets a ride with grandpa and Walt who dump him at a hotel where the desk clerk knows Walter who leaves without a goodbye. However, the hotel is filled with legislatures wasting the taxpayers' money, but he gets the room because of Freckles whatever species that is. By phone his boss Roscoe fires him for his odd behavior interfering with his work. However, Denny is uninterested as he thinks he will have fun with Marge.

    Instead just when he believes he has a one night stand, Marge leaves. Preparing to escape the insanity of the hotel and its town, people begin to call Denny Homer Dumpling, who vanished without a trace three years ago. When he realizes no one believes he is Braintree and that Homer remains popular amongst the locals, he decides to stick around for a while. This proves a smart move when Marge is found dead and the cops believe the "missing" Denny did it.

    Readers will enjoy Denny's thought process starting with the State trooper interviewing him, his hotel stay and his time residing in Homer's home while the real missing man's girlfriend Sara is also there. The story line is breezy and fun as Denny's reactions and actions are seemingly abnormal yet enable him to survive crisis after crisis. Filled with twists including a brilliant encounter, fans will root for the antihero whose love for real and model trains enhance the audience inability to understand an eccentric fascinating individual who brings a fresh outlook to the Vermont crime scene.

    Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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