by Stephen Dixon

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National Book Award Finalist, 1996  See more details below


National Book Award Finalist, 1996

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dixon's 1991 novel, Frog, earned him NBA and PEN/Faulkner nominations. His latest, Interstate, is equally distinctive and imaginative in portraying human peculiarities and the search for order in the seemingly irrational and meaningless contemporary American universe. The novel brilliantly explores the alterations of memory, trauma and guilt in parents whose children have been casualties of violence. Like all of Dixon's work, it is a demanding read; the edgy, insistent, run-on dialogue, in particular, requires focused attention. The story is told eight times. While the inciting incident remains the same, with each retelling, new dimensions are added to or subtracted from the plot and characters. The question Dixon raises is what really haunts us: What would you do if the unthinkable happened? The critical event is this: a father is driving home on the highway with his little girls in the back seat; some men in a minivan drive up alongside and shoot through the window, killing one of the girls. In offering different scenarios from this point on, Dixon challenges the reader to leap imaginatively into the experience. One father risks his marriage, his relationship with his remaining child and his freedom to find the killer. Another makes his dead child's memory into a religion, praying the hospital will tell him ``she's saved,'' although he knows she's dead. With each variation Dixon implicitly asks: How can you be sure the incident happened the way you remember, or the way you've been told? Reading Interstate is like being a passenger in a car speeding along the highway of the mind, swerving in and out of what is real and imagined, on the edge of losing control yet not losing it, because the driver knows what he's doing. With characteristic directness, Dixon's crisis-mode narrative runs together in one seemingly jumbled, breathless rush, with evocative thoughts causing memories to surface not just in the minds of the narrators but in the reader's mind as well. Jarringly perceptive and darkly compelling, this novel will confirm Dixon as a writer of stature. Author tour. (May)
Library Journal
Now here's a novel idea: a work in which each of eight chapters consists entirely of a single long paragraph. But there's a method to Dixon's seeming stylistic madness, and this follow-up to his acclaimed Frog (a finalist for both the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner award; reviewed in LJ 1/92) is in fact a case of form following function. The eight narratives are alternative replays of a terrible, defining moment that transpires in the book's opening pages: an act of random violence in which a man and his two daughters are shot at by punks in a passing van, and one of the girls is killed. Dixon's dense, plain-spoken prose perfectly mirrors the chaotic workings of a mind riddled with rage and guilt, where every thought and utterance is second-guessed. A timely, disturbing work that belongs in every fiction collection. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/95.]-David Sowd, formerly with Stark Cty. District Lib. Canton, Ohio

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Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
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5.50(w) x 8.26(h) x 0.96(d)

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By Stephen Dixon

Dzanc Books

Copyright © 1995 Stephen Dixon
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3451-6



He's in the car with the two kids, driving on the Interstate when a car pulls up on his side and stays even with his for a while and he looks at it and the guy next to the driver of what's a minivan signals him to roll down his window. He raises his forehead in an expression "What's up?" but the guy, through an open window, makes motions again to roll down his window and then sticks his hand out his window and points down at the back of Nat's car, and he says "My wheel, something wrong with it?" and the guy shakes his head and cups his hands over his mouth as if he wants to say something to him. He lowers his window, slows down a little while he does it, van staying alongside him, kids are playing some kid card game in back though strapped in, and when the window's rolled almost all the way down and the hand he used is back on the steering wheel, the guy in the car sticks a gun out the window and points it at his head. "What? What the hell you doing," he says, "you crazy?" and the guy's laughing but still pointing, so's the driver laughing, and he says "What is this? What I do, what do you want?" and the guy puts his free hand behind his ear and says "What, what, what? Can't hear ya," with the driver laughing even harder now, and he says "I said what do you want from me?" and the guy says "Just to scare you, that's all, you know, and you're scared, right?—look at the sucker, scared shitless," and he says "Yeah, okay, very, so put it away," and the kids start screaming, probably just took their eyes off the card game and saw what was happening, or one did and the other followed, or they just heard him and looked or had been screaming all the time and he didn't hear them, but he doesn't look at them through the rearview, no time, just concentrates on the gun and guy holding it and thinking what to do and thinks "Lose them," and floors the gas pedal and gets ahead of the van but it pulls even with him and when he keeps flooring it stays even with him and even gets a little ahead and comes back with the guy still pointing the gun out the window and now grinning at him, driver's in hysterics and slapping the dashboard, things seem to be so funny, and he thinks "Should I roll the window up or keep it down, for rolling it up the guy might take it the wrong way and shoot, if he's got bullets in there," and he looks around, no other cars on their side of the Interstate except way in the distance front and behind, no police cars coming the other way or parked as far as he can see on the median strip, and he yells "Kids, get down, duck, stop screaming, do what Daddy says," and sees them in the rearview staring at the van and screaming and he shouts "I said get down, now, now, unbuckle yourselves, and shut up, your screaming's making me not think," and slows down and rolls the window up and van slows down till it's alongside him, the guy holding the gun out and one time slapping the driver's free hand with his, and then the guy points the gun at the backseat with the kids ducked down in it and crying, maybe on the floor, maybe on the seat, for he can't see them, and he swerves to the slow lane and the van gets beside him in the middle lane, and then he pulls onto the shoulder, stops, shifts quickly and drives in reverse on it bumping over some clumps, and the van goes on but much slower and from about a hundred and then two and three and four hundred feet away the guy steadies his gun arm with his other hand and aims at his car and he yells "Kids, stay down," for both are now looking out the back, maybe because of the bumping and sudden going in reverse, and bullets go through the windshield. He screams in pain, glass in his head and a bullet through his hand, yells "Girls, you all right?" for there's screaming from in back but only one of them, and his oldest daughter says "Daddy, Julie's not moving, Daddy, she's bleeding, Daddy, I don't see her breathing, I think she's dead."

There's a funeral next day, and day after it, while his wife and their families are mourning at his house, he goes out on the same Interstate searching for those guys, wishing he'd done it in the few hours of daylight he had the day before. He drives on it every day after that looking for them in one of the road's rest stops or in the car they drove, a white fairly new minivan, Chevy or Ford, or in any vehicle they might have now, he wouldn't think it'd be that van, though they could be that stupid or devil-may-care—swashbuckling, he was about to call it, when he meant swaggering, the fucking hyenas. He knows their faces, what they look like and, he thinks, what they like to wear. Knows it's a long shot finding them, that they'll probably stay off this road if they have any reason to be on it again, drug-trafficking maybe if that's the right term for delivering drugs from one place to another, something he'd think they'd be in, or running guns, for another thing. But then they might think this route's the best of any because it's big and fast, for one reason, and it's the last the cops might think they'd be on after what they did, if they even know about it from the papers and radio and such. Because for all they know or care about later they might think they only got the windshield, big laugh, but didn't hit anyone or hurt anyone much except with maybe a little glass. Or maybe the driver had his eyes peeled to the road, and by the time the guy finished shooting the van was too far away for him to see if he hit anything, or the gun recoiled or whatever it does, banged him in the eye, even, no matter how hard he was holding it, so he didn't even look to see or just couldn't if he hit anything. They also might have been so far away from the shooting the next day that it wouldn't have been news in the papers of the place they were in or on the radio and TV stations there, not that he believes they read the newsier part of the papers or listen to radio or TV news even when it might relate to them. Or they might have been too drugged or drunk to read, watch or listen, if they do do those things with news, or just too busy getting rid of the drugs or guns they were delivering or picking up or whatever criminal activity they were going to, for certainly some kind of crime like that's what they're in. So, a long shot but the only shot he thinks he has at finding these men, especially the guy who seemed to start it or was most involved in it and could have easily stopped it, the one with the gun, and finding them and getting even and making them die if he can, at his hands or the state's, and if the state doesn't do it then he'll come with a gun to the courthouse last trial day to do it himself, or with a hammer, or better, a pick, and especially to that guy, is the only thing right now he wants to do.

He stays on the Interstate days for about ten hours each day for weeks, south at the big bridge through his state for eighty-four miles, direction he was heading that day, turning around at the state line and back north to the bridge, and so forth, north-south, south-north, every two hours or so stopping for coffee or a snack at one of the road's rest areas where he looks around for those men at the restaurants and fast-food places inside and then outside in the lots which he drives around looking for the van, and occasionally there for gas where he asks the attendants if they've seen a white minivan lately, Chevy or Ford—even though when he saw newspaper ads of the different vans he couldn't tell the two makes apart—he doesn't know what state's license plate but with one or two men in it looking like the ones he describes. Hand gets better, for a while had to steer and shift with the right, which took some getting used to, at the start of the search his wife telling him it's understandable but a little crazy what he's doing, risking his health by damaging his hand further, raising the chances of an accident by driving so much and so many hours a day and with a bad hand and staying awake through most of it on coffee, deserting his family when they really need him, maybe losing his job and draining their savings and just doing something useless and futile, for he'll never find them, not one in a million will he ever even see them even driving the opposite way from him, and if he does hit that once and catches up with them they'll probably kill him first second they recognize him, for they're pros at it with no remorse at what they do while he's just an inexperienced hysteric, and continues saying what he's doing is crazy but not "a little" anymore or "understandable," but he still does it, and longer he does greater the chance he'll find them, he thinks—if they weren't on the Interstate before they'll be on it now, unless they got jailed or killed since because of the stuff they're into, for they'll feel it's all blown over or almost and they can ride the Interstate again because nobody's really out looking for them—takes a week-to-week work leave always saying he's still in a state of shock over his daughter, eventually they ask him to see the company psychologist, and when he refuses—one reason, he doesn't tell them, that it'll take time away from his search and another that he doesn't think the psychologist will believe him—then a private therapist he chooses who should send the report on him to them, and when he says rest's all he needs, no doctor, they let him go.

Few months after he started the search he sees a white minivan like the one that day going the other way on the Interstate and not unlike many he's seen on it and a few he's gone after because he thought he saw one or two of those men in it and pulled up alongside and saw he was wrong, and this one also seemed to have two men resembling the ones that day, around the same age as them and both with mustaches and fedora-type hats and the driver with dark sunglasses, more so than any guys he's seen so far in this kind of white minivan, and he crosses the grass median, tries keeping his eyes on the van while he waits for a slew of cars to pass, drives eighty miles an hour to catch up with it and is pulled over by an unmarked police car and though he says why he was driving so fast and asks the cop to go after the van, is told "You have to stay within the law, whatever you're after, and the car's long gone from here, if in fact your excuse is on the level," and gives him a steep ticket.

He continues his search another month, by this time his daughter and wife have gone to live with her folks in New York and he's down to the end of the little savings he asked her to leave him when she left, when he sees on the other side of the Interstate what he thinks is the same van from the last time, only one guy in it but with a mustache and he thinks a fedora-type hat but no sunglasses. A mesh fence separates the two directions so he has to drive about a mile before he can cross in the first don't-enter space between the fence, goes exactly sixty-five an hour in the speed lane till he sees a white minivan in the distance and hopes it's the same one he saw more than five minutes ago, catches up, maybe the guy driving at the maximum legal speed so as not to risk being stopped by the cops if he's the one, gets behind it in one of the three center lanes and jots down the license plate with the pen and pad he'd stuck to the dash just in case of this, from the back the driver looks like the one that day when the van drove on while the other guy shot at them, gets alongside on the left in the next center lane and looks inside. Same driver, he can't believe it, he's almost sure it's him and looks hard again, he's sure and shouts "Holy Christ, oh my God," and slams the passenger seat with his fist and stays alongside and thinks what's he going to do? what did he plan to?—follow him and then get the cops to grab him after he sees what house or store or whatever he goes in, no, scare the hell out of him first and then do what he can to give the guy an accident but not a bad one as he doesn't want to kill him for it's the other guy he wants much worse than him, and honks and the driver stays staring straight ahead, windows up, listening to some heavy beat it seems because his head's bopping back and forth and his mouth's moving as if he's singing or doing something to the music with it, and he honks again and again and the driver looks in the rearview and then when he honks again, to his right and he nods and says "Yeah, yeah, me," and lowers his window and indicates with his hand the driver should roll down his and the driver raises his eyebrows with an expression like "Hey, what's up, man?" and he says out loud to himself "Jesus, just what I did that day, the bastard," and honks repeatedly and the driver seems to say with his expression "What's with you, man, what're you going nuts for with your horn?" and he aims his hand out the window in the shape of a gun at the driver and the driver smiles and aims his hand back at him across his seat in the shape of a gun and then with his mouth seems to go bang-bang and he says "Bang-bang to you too, you rotten bastard, you scroungy rat, do you hear me?" and the driver laughs but a fake one and looks back at the road and he honks and honks till the driver looks at him and he jabs his thumb into his chest and says "Me, I'm the fucking father of the kid you killed, do you remember me?" and the driver smiles and points to his ear while shaking his head and then looks at the road again and he honks repeatedly and the driver keeps looking ahead though every thirty seconds or so sneaks a glance over to see if the car's still beside him and gradually picks up speed and while they're doing about seventy he crosses into the driver's lane and slowly gets close enough to the van to bump its side once with his and then veers right and straightens out just as he's about to lose control and drives parallel to the van about a foot apart and the driver looks alarmed and through his closed window seems to scream at him while shaking his fist "What're you, fucking nuts, you moron?—I'll kill ya," and speeds up and he follows but can't stay even as the van gets up to about a hundred and his car at the most can do eighty-five, so he just watches it till he loses it and then slows to sixty-five and keeps driving for miles, hoping a patrol car pulled the van over for going at such a high speed but either the van's off the Interstate by now or the police were only able to catch up to it once it was off or none had.

He rides the Interstate another two weeks and then gives up; they're probably not driving on it anymore, he thinks, or they got a different car, but now that they know he's out looking for them and no doubt told the police he actually saw them on it, or just the driver knows—the other guy could be anywhere else, even shot dead by now, being involved in what he had to be and having exhibited the kind of craziness he did—they're not going to chance that van or this road no matter how dumb or reckless they might be. He did ask the police that day to check on a white Ford minivan with the Florida license plate number he gave and which either has some damage to its right side or will be having body work done there, but they can't locate any van like that in any state they've communication with and the Florida plates were reported stolen in Georgia a few days ago.


Excerpted from Interstate by Stephen Dixon. Copyright © 1995 Stephen Dixon. Excerpted by permission of Dzanc Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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