Monument Road

Monument Road

by Charlie Quimby


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Leonard Self has spent a year unwinding his ranch, paying down debts, and fending off the darkening . Just one thing left: taking his wife's ashes to her favorite overlook, where he plans to step off the cliff with her into a stark and beautiful landscape. But Leonard finds he has company on a route that intertwines old wounds and new insights that make him question whether his life is over after all.

"Part modern western, part mystery, this first novel will appeal to fans of Louise Erdrich and Kent Haruf. Quimby's prose reads so true, it breaks the heart."
BOOKLIST , starred review

"The Colorado setting and the author's simple style of prose perfectly complement the complexity of the human spirit in this superb debut."

" Monument Road is so rich with landscape, character and event that such a small telling cannot begin to do it justice. Read this exquisite story; it is a joy and a wonder and a tour de force of authorship."

"Quimby’s storytelling, his humane impulses and his lyrical passages on the meaning of love and time, and on the history, geology and botany of the region, will surely impress readers."

"Quimby uses words as spare as Colorado’s landscape to describe characters who range from endearing to crusty, wise to foolish, spiritual to downright evil. The folks who live near Monument Road aren’t just descriptions in a book; they’re complex people readers will care about."

"Not to be overlooked is the love, humor and friendship among pain and loss, which makes it a book far more about the richness of life than the finality of death."

" Monument Road is a wonderful novel full of wit and wisdom, generosity and malice."

"Quimby’s writing is sensitive and graceful; he has a talent for revealing slowly blossoming characters who are beautifully flawed and realistic."

"While not exactly a happy novel, Monument Road is beautiful and real, full of landscape imagery of the American Southwest as a poignant and sometimes haunting metaphor of our connections to the land."

"This is a novel with size and scope and generosity, with an acute understanding of human nature and a deep appreciation for the ways people face change and work out their lives in relation to each other."
KENT MEYERS , author of Twisted Tree and The Work of Wolves

"In prose that might have been chiseled from the magnificent landscape he describes, Charlie Quimby has written a great big American Novel. Full of pathos and humor and sadness, you won't reach the end of this book without feeling fuller and wiser. What a gift Charlie has given us."
PETER GEYE , author of The Lighthouse Road and Safe from the Sea

" Monument Road is a legitimate modern western, complete with an impressively authentic and aging rancher, heartache, ghosts, low-lifes, a rural landscape undergoing radical transformation, a glut of evangelical churches, and the ancient, powerful cliffs and mesas that surround it all, in southwestern Colorado. The narrative is likewise unpredictable and wild! A pleasure to read."
BONNIE NADZAM , author of Lamb

"The landscape and characters of Monument Road ring true. Charlie Quimby has created a story that is hard to forget. His attention to the details of a fading life and life style are spot on and will be a window to any reader's understanding of the central phenomenon of the New West."
DAN O'BRIEN , author of Stolen Horses and Buffalo for the Broken Heart: Restoring Life to a Black Hills Ranch

" Monument Road is a big-hearted novel chock full of memorable characters, a pleasure to read."
DAVID RHODES , author of Jewelweed and Driftless

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937226251
Publisher: Torrey House Press
Publication date: 11/12/2013
Pages: 365
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Charlie Quimby’s writing life has always crossed divides. A playwright turned critic. A protest songwriter who worked for a defense contractor. A blogger about taxpaying and homelessness. He wrote award-winning words for others in Harvard Business Review, Financial World magazine and the NFL Hall of Fame. Naturally, he splits time between Minneapolis and his native western Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

Monument Road

By Charlie Quimby


Copyright © 2013 Charlie Quimby
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937226-25-1



A Year of Days

Inetta made him promise: a year to the day after she passed, he would carry her ashes to the cliff edge at Artists Point. "I want to be good and dry," she said. "Me and Jesus'll be watching, and I want to float for a while."

Leonard Self promised and left his wife to sort out the rest, since some in Shower of Blessings Holiness Temple held that cremation expressed insufficient belief in the Rapture. But her pastor said, "Inetta's passed all the Lord's tests, so I'm sure the Lord can handle hers."

The Lord's tests were the usual trials and tribulations dealt out in mysterious ways, and Inetta had been sorely tried. Cancer that had come on headlong and hungry seemed far too slow near the end and so did the year of days that followed. What was Leonard supposed to do with it? Regroup? Get a new wife? Find Jesus?

Well, that wasn't quite the way it worked out, was it?

He remembered, from the one science class he made it through, that bodies of different weights should fall at the same rate. That was the book science. He was certain that a flake of bone would descend at the same speed as a cinder, but neither, cast into the canyon winds, would fall as fast as a man.

For seventy-some years, he had stayed put here where the Rockies start to give up their grip at the alkaline shore of a sagebrush sea that spills all the way to Oregon. It wasn't like he felt deprived living in one place. In this country, he always said, where you think you are depends on where you look. Now, snaking down Monument Road, he passes through a thousand sheer feet of sandstone and granite where all of earth's time is laid open in vertical autopsy. At the bottom of the switchbacks he crosses the parched outlet of No Thoroughfare Canyon, a sandy tumble of shale, broken granite, basalt, mud rock—the ancient shrapnel of earth's upheavals. Mars overgrown with greasewood. Across the green sliver of valley, the Book Cliffs crumble and spill into dry runnels and drifts. When he worked on one of Donnie Barclay's road crews, he'd had to descend this twisting stretch five or six times a week, and the drive lost its fearful mystery. Monument Road became just one more delay for him and so many of his cash poor neighbors—floor hands, janitors and deliverymen still wanting to call themselves ranchers. But today, he takes it slow, tries to absorb the lesson. Explorers saw this desert as a place of quick passage, retreat or doom. Grand Junction's thin crust of town life was finally established by railroads, ditch lines and the readiness of water to follow industrious men. Now the city sprouts from the dust that turns to gumbo each spring, as if man could override the warning written here in sand and stone.

Rain falls in dark columns that stand miles apart like smoke rising from spring burns. In the sizzling air, these drops of virga will never reach his windshield; his wiper blades tend to dry up before they wear down. With the ground so parched and bare, men can't help but look skyward. It's no wonder, Inetta used to say, God chose the desert to reveal Himself.

Leonard still has the fifty in his wallet, left folded gum-wrapper style the way he received it months ago. He carries it absently like a ticket stub from a past event. The woman meant well with it, and he smiles at the memory of her attempt to wrap him in the arms of poetry. Not a chance. He is past all spending or saving and beyond verses from mystics. He has no desire for a last meal, no need for more gas in the truck, no inclination to mail a last payment to the bill collectors. They'll get theirs soon enough. He imagines some hiker at the bottom of the canyon going through his pockets and finding the fifty. He considers the glum vagrants with the HOMELESS ANYTHING HELPS GOD BLESS signs and wonders if it really would.

Inetta's sketchbook is on the seat, sealed and addressed to her brother, Elliott, the one person on earth sure to appreciate it. Inetta is there, too, in the squat ceramic container she'd picked out herself. A Smith & Wesson .32 police revolver rides in the glove box. He brought it just in case. In case of what? He should have left it behind, but last week's dry run at Artists Point shook him a little. He doesn't need any doubts today. He wants to be clear and true in the long last moment.

Stitches has her head out the window, clabbers of drool swinging from her flews, a plastic bucket of kibble rolling around in the truck bed. When he asked Winnie Bonniver if she would take the dog for a spell, Winnie'd acted a little flustered, cordial and put out all at the same time. Their relationship had always been off kilter, with Winnie always trying to do things for him after Inetta died, and him wanting to be left alone. Winnie's house would have to be the last stop.

Vaughn Hobart's place is near the river, a short turn off Monument Road. Calling it a work in progress would overstate both terms. The front yard is sheathed in plastic with drip system lines laid across it, a litter of dog turds showing how long the project has been suspended. Another sheet of the plastic is anchored on the roof with four bald tires likely salvaged from Vaughn's Mercury, which tilts on blocks in the back shed, a fabrication of corrugated metal, wooden pallets and other salvaged lumber. Vaughn's latest ride, a retired police Crown Vic, over-sprayed white, is nowhere around. The last time Leonard saw it, its dual spotlights dangled from broken mounts and swung on the wires when Vaughn came to a stop.

Stitches seems to be smelling Vaughn's dogs, so Leonard quick-steps to the back of the house, where he can leave the half bottle of Old Crow out of sight from the road. He could have poured it out instead of returning it, but he didn't want Vaughn to overlook the envelope containing his extra set of keys and a signed-over title to the truck.

The post office is next. The long line of patrons inside surprises him. Before he makes it to the counter, he listens to a man tracking down his VA check, two kids applying for passports so they can go on a mission trip, a Mexican wiring money and a woman buying a stack of Express Mail boxes.

"You still sell stamps here?"

Either the clerk doesn't get the joke or he's heard it too often. He picks up Inetta's wrapped sketchbook from the counter, places it on the scale and asks, "When do you want it to get there?"

"Just so it does."

The clerk peers through his glasses at a screen, then over them at Leonard. "Parcel Post, you're looking at another seven dollars and twelve cents to what you've got on there. Express Mail's more but the contents are automatically insured if the value is less than two hundred dollars. What would you say the value is?"

Leonard stares at the clerk. The question has no right answer. Two pounds and a fraction on the scale, somewhere between worthless and beyond price. The clerk checks the line of customers over Leonard's shoulder. "And however you decide to send this, sir, it needs a return address."

Leonard picks up the package, turns and slides past the counter, through the doors and down the steps. He pauses beside the outdoor collection boxes and hugs the sketchbook once more before slipping it down the chute. Let them mark it insufficient postage. Elliott will note the postmark and pay whatever is due.

Backing out from the curb, he hears a sudden whumping on the side of the pickup. "Is that how you treat your dog, leaving it in a hot truck?" demands a fierce woman, her ponytail shaking behind her ball cap.

"Both windows was down. She's fine." Maybe she's new to town, where trucks have dogs as standard equipment.

"It's sweltering! I've called animal protection."

"'Preciate your concern, but my dog is none of your business."

"No one's entitled to endanger animals! What if you were in an accident? She'd be thrown out on the road! I'll be watching for you!"

He puts up his window and she gives his fender one last thump.

Where do these people come from that think they can just walk up and give strangers grief? Used to be you were left to your affairs. Now these newcomers want to call down the government on you if you don't cover your damn cough. He could have just put Stitches down or left her with Vaughn. Instead, he's endangering himself by taking the dog to Winnie Bonniver's house.

He checks the traffic over his shoulder. In the corner of the mirror, a wild man glares back at him. Oily clumps of hair point from under his brim, like rainbow trout spilling from a full creel. As he'd emptied the house, he'd also pared his domestic routine. Among its many uses, a man's hat was an efficiency measure, he'd maintained to Inetta, saving on shampoo, combs and unnecessary trips to town. When he lost the argument to You may not care, but I have to look at you, Inetta would touch him up with a retired pair of sewing scissors, and when she threatened to fetch the rusty hand shears from the barn, he knew it was about time to seek professional help.

On those occasions he'd pay a visit to Dave Grantham, who would take the crown down short and shave the sides with a straight razor three inches above his ears. Inetta called it the reverse tree line. Leonard called it getting his money's worth.

It won't hurt to see Dave before he shows up at Winnie's, he thinks. Dave used to have a shop in the grand old La Court Hotel, where he cut hair for the town's merchants, the occasional traveling salesman and cowboys on the way to their weddings. In those days, a man cut a man's hair. But in the late 1960s, hotels, haircuts and walk-in traffic started to go downhill about the same time. A Holiday Inn opened out by the airport and the La Court closed the next year. Dave moved his pole, his chair and his elk head to North Avenue, but not everyone followed and he gradually spent more time in the chair than standing behind it.

A bell tinkles when the door opens, announcing the obvious to the barber sitting ten feet away.

"S'pose I could bring my dog in? Had a run-in with a pet Nazi and she might be on our trail."

Dave sets aside his book. "Come on in. I always wondered if I'd have the guts to hide someone from the Nazis."

Leonard likes a barber who's quick, who holds up his end of a conversation but doesn't push it. He also likes that Dave still wears a white smock, like a dentist, and pops the cape matador-fashion across the chair to signal that it's ready for him. Dave anoints Leonard's neck with talc before applying the tissue tape and then folds it carefully over the top of the drape to seal out any trimmings. He takes both arms of the chair and points Leonard at the mirror. "The same?"

Leonard watches himself nod, feels the twin discomforts of having his picture taken and seeing the result. His nose, slightly flattened across the bridge where a stallion got the better of a head butt. Left ear jugged, right ear in close. Strong cheekbones which, coupled with a lifetime of squinting in the mountain sun, make his slitted eyes seem cheery or skeptical, depending on what his tight-drawn mouth is doing. Wide paws on the armrests, skin blotched and dry rivered, knuckles like walnuts. His high forehead never got any higher, but over the years, his hair has grayed, coarsened and thinned out a crop circle only visible when Dave holds up the hand mirror in back. When the chair pivots around to face the waiting area, Leonard's relieved to be rid of the sight of himself.

Dave uses a spray bottle and comb to separate Leonard's compacted hair into cuttable strands. Inetta never would have allowed him to get to this state. He could hear her as she escalated her observations from Maybe you should see a barber, hon, to You need a gosh darn haircut. He does and he doesn't.

In the strip mall location, a narrow slot between a hearing aid store and an insurance agency, the artifacts from Dave's old shop seem like secondhand goods up for sale. The trio of chrome-trimmed chairs might once have seemed reserved for customers awaiting a space flight, but now as the wounded turquoise vinyl weeps cotton wool, they're revealed as remnants from a lost dinette set. The standing metal ashtray with the broad Saturn rim no longer accepts cigarettes and can only serve as a teetering end table. Framed photos of Little League teams portray boys who have long gone bald. The elk head, majestically mounted on the plastered, lobby-high wall at the hotel, merely calls attention to yellowed acoustic tiles and the fluorescent tubes buzzing inches above its rack.

Leonard thinks of all the goods he's loaded into the truck over these months and distributed surreptitiously—clothes to the Catholic Outreach, furniture to the Salvation Army, books and knick-knacks to the Goodwill. The horses, the tack and most of the equipment sold here and there. Tools quietly left behind at a neighbor's. When it came time to clear out the ranch, he still saw life in its residue of spare parts and disused objects. The only way to dispose of even the lowliest article was through a wholesale cleansing that first exhilarated him, then left him with the melancholy of release.

"You ever think of packin' it in?" Leonard asks.

"Where to?" Dave snips as he considers. "What would I do?" He hunts down invisible wisps. "I like to read military history." He finds one. "This barber chair's the best reading chair I own. Lighting's good." He lifts two strands between scissored fingers and compares. "No refrigerator here, so I don't eat too much or start drinking too early ..." He cups his hand on Leonard's skull and trims the stray hair that sprouts between his fingers. "People come in, but not too many. Enough to pay the rent. Gives a shape to the day."

But the day had the same shape, like the shape of the haircut: the buzz of the clippers, the swick-swick-swick of the scissors, the slobber of the bristles in the shaving cup, the slap of the razor strop as the lather soaked in, and the faint skritch of the straight razor as it exposed the high ridge of pale, smooth scalp.

Dave completes a final etch around a mole and then circles Leonard back to give his approval.

"Okay," he says, but the barber isn't finished.

Dave points a small scissors tip into his ear and deftly snips away a nest of curled hair, then probes the folds for others. He works around each ear, inside and out. Next, the eyebrows, combing out runaway flares and cutting them flush one at a time. The nose. Snipping the nostrils clear. Tweezing away the hairs that had taken root on the tip.

"This took any longer, you could give away the haircut and charge me for the trim."

"I went on a cruise once where they had this Turkish barber," says Dave, who makes a hobby of getting his hair cut in new places. "He waved this flaming wick around my ears like he was shaking a maraca. Whoom-whoom-whoom. Couldn't feel a thing. Took off all the peach fuzz and the stubble. I suppose if I finished a trim like that, I could charge extra."

"You might even charge admission."

"Want to try it?" Dave asks.

"Not if I'm your first victim."

Dave laughs. "Somebody'll go for it one day, but ... Shave?"


"You like to leave half a lip long?" Dave reaches for the magnifying hand mirror, but Leonard's fingers find the missed bristles. With his mirror sent off to Goodwill, he's been shaving by feel for a month. Dave whisks off Leonard's face and the back of his neck, shakes some Lilac Vegetal into his palms and rubs the newly exposed scalp. Then he unpins the tissue, taps Leonard on the shoulder and cracks the cape. "There you go."

Leonard stands up and empties his wallet. He wants to be out the door before Dave gets the fifty unfolded. He's almost made it when he hears the barber say, "Did you mean to give me this?"

"Keep the change—for not settin' me on fire."

"What about this writing on the back?" He holds up the bill scrawled with red ink. "Don't go back to sleep?"

"It come that way. You can keep the poem, too."

What women tell each other is one of the great mysteries of life, but most of the time Leonard could live without the knowledge. Winnie Bonniver was one of Inetta's book club friends, so it was possible she knew of his promise about the ashes. Women remember all kinds of things on their own, too—birthdays, anniversaries and operations; insults, disobedience and deaths—so maybe she connected the dates. Whatever, now here he is on her doorstep, hat in hand, dog at his side. If she asks where he's headed, he wants to be honest but he's willing to lie. She'd expect to be invited. Might insist on being there, turn it into a production. Inetta had just asked for him, Artists Point and a little breeze, and that's what she was going to get.

Excerpted from Monument Road by Charlie Quimby. Copyright © 2013 Charlie Quimby. Excerpted by permission of TORREY HOUSE PRESS, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Monument Road 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Leonard and Inetta's love story is beautifully written. As a western Kansas girl I was particularly taken with the descriptions of the landscape, of small town life, ranching, and those me of few words. I found myself reading certain passages over again for the sheer pleasure of the truth they captured. Of course, my heart went out to and broke for Junior Crimmins. Quimby's character development is outstanding. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Monument Road tells of life in western Colorado both in small towns and working ranches. The author's descriptions are spot-on. The novel's characters are vivid and endearing. Also, when read for book club, the novel generated lively discussion. Monument Road is a very enjoyable read - a wonderful debut novel by Charlie Quimby.
JanisNowlan More than 1 year ago
Not long ago, my friend Charlie told me he was writing a book. Not any book, but one placed in an area I know and love, the Grand Valley of Western Colorado, and more specifically, the Colorado National Monument. When Charlie gave me an advanced copy this fall, I was eager to read it . . . and not just because I knew the author and the setting. Monument Road is book so full of amazing descriptions, clever and compelling language, intriguing characters and plot intersections. I wondered if for me the book was richer or more challenging or both, because I have so much history with the area, the people and the themes. To be clear, Monument Road is not a piece of hometown-nostalgia. This great book will take any reader to a new place that seems somewhat familiar because of the universal and human themes. I dove in as I would with a book with new characters and new stories. Within a few pages, it felt like one of those mornings or evenings when the leaves are turning -- and because of a slight drizzle -- the scent of fall takes me back to some familiar place and time. Not a specific memory, but the essence of one. It would not surprise me if those unfamiliar with the setting might have a similar response.