Author Mary Sojourner’s latest ecological novel, 29, is an invitation into a wild retro ride through the fiercely beautiful landscape of the Mojave Desert. The story is rife with the aroma of the wacky weed of desperation as it follows the descent of its protagonist from corporate America into the ignominy of 29 Palms, California, where she becomes entangled in an environmental battle.
Nell Walker, a 55-year-old computer whiz, has been let go from her lucrative job in Los Angeles as an accounts executive with a pharmaceutical firm. As the story opens, it has been a long time since she was gainfully employed, and she has lost everything. Nell is on her way to end it all, but, at the suggestion of an transportation employee, she takes a bus to Palm Springs, California. Unexpectedly, she ends up in 29 Palms – a small and unfamiliar town.
The heat is oppressive, and Nell must adapt to the new rigors of life in the desert. Through luck, she happens on a chance to live in La Paloma, a shelter for women. She then gets a job as a computer nerd at the local garage, and her life unexpectedly melds with one Monkey Barnett.
Monkey owns the garage and suffers from a severe lack of computer and bookkeeping savvy. Monkey is married to Jackie, a RN and artist. He is addicted to excessive marijuana use, which seems to be causing him to go into trances and have terrifying visions. On the bright side, Nell’s skills are a welcome relief for Monkey, freeing him from the daily burdens of running the garage. Soon, their relationship becomes something more, and complications ensue.
Meanwhile, Nell is introduced to Mariah, one of the local Native American Chemehuevi elders. Mariah takes Nell to a tribal path and reveals her concern for happenings in the sacred desert. It seems that FreegreenGlobal, an international energy corporation, has designs on creating a solar farm on land near 29 Palms. Mariah knows that if this happens, the wildlife, the land and people in the city will be in peril. It is this impending environmental doom that finally brings together the wide-ranging characters of 29 in an attempt to prevent the worst from happening.
Sojourner’s description of the harsh land and its many unloved critters is unexpectedly beautiful and many times humorous. For those who may think that the desert is a vast empty space, Sojourner dispels that myth with her insightful depiction of Nell’s explorations and experiences into the landscapes of 29 Palms. It is apparent that the author has concerns for the continuing health and survival of the great Mojave Desert. With this story she puts that issue before her readers and may well garner their support for her cause.
Sojourner’s characters also contribute to the charm and allure of 29. They are a vividly drawn and varied group. Whatever their role in the story, they are multilayered and colorful and contribute fully to the narrative. The unexpected and interwoven paths of the characters offer insight into intriguing and complex personal relationships. Sojourner’s writing is evocative, descriptive and lyrical – especially when Nell is deep within the night, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells of the desert. 29 is a tantalizing read.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Leslie Doran is a Durango freelance reviewer.