Travelers Rest - Keith Lee Morris
Discerning book readers are going to want to get clarification on that title before they even consider looking at this book, and rightly so. Yes, as irritating as it might be, that is an American spelling of 'traveller' that has made its way untranslated over to the UK edition. Borderline acceptable. There had better be a good reason however for the questionable punctuation. Where the heck is the apostrophe? Well, discounting grammatical error, there are two possible explanations, one of which might even make the Americanisation a little more acceptable. One is that it's a 'Pet Sematary' name lifted off a sign kind of thing with spelling and grammatical flaws intact, the other is that it's actually a statement. Travelers rest ...after a long tiring journey.
It could be either or a bit of both. The Stephen King reference is not entirely inappropriate either considering that there are some very obvious influences of 'The Shining' in Travelers Rest (this title is driving my spelling and grammar checker nuts), but principally because its a long and tiring journey getting to the end of the book. Travelers Rest is indeed the name of the hotel where the Addison family - anthropologist Tonio, his wife Julia, his brother Robbie and his 10 year-old son Dewey - pull up on a dark and stormy night. The strange town just off the Interstate is called Good Night, Idaho and the family have no choice but to take shelter at the Travelers Rest, an old hotel that looks like something from the last century.
Family on the road, some internal tensions between them, a creepy hotel with no electricity on a dark and stormy night, the snow swirling around ever deeper, entrapping them in Good Night, Idaho - you're starting to get the picture, aren't you? As the punchline of The Eagles 'Hotel California' puts it: "You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave". That's the case of each of the Addison family as they become trapped in their own worlds, some of them slipping back into alternative characters relating to the mining history of the town, wandering around the strange hotel like ghosts to the others. Unfortunately, as the book spirals into this Groundhog Day no way out situation, the reader also feels like they want to check out but it's not quite that easy to leave either.
Although some of the other inhabitants the Addisons meet have some ideas - vaguely something to do with mystical forces and terrible events in the past - it's not entirely clear why or how the hotel has tapped into the psyche of Tonio, Julia, Robbie and Dewey, exploiting their flaws, their weaknesses and their deepest desires. There's a little bit of exploration of the dynamic of the family unit, Tonio's over-protectiveness of his son Dewey to the exclusion of caring about Julia's development; the 10 year old Dewey being expected to be mature before his time and live-up to his father's high expectations; Julia never having really discovered herself or known real passion; with Robbie a bit of a dangerous element, attracted to Julia, but being too much of what Tonio calls a 'degenerate', constantly drunk and getting into trouble.
Snow jokes aside, you get drift here fairly quickly, but it's hard to see where the Travelers Rest is going to go, or how it's going to sustain a couple of hundred more pages once the family quickly succumb to the hotel's power. There ought to be enough material here - particularly with Tonio and Julia's timeslips to the heyday of Good Night and its mining glory - but there's not really enough substance to the characters to merit any deep psychological exploration of their nature. Essentially, they aren't bad people really, and their 'problems' are fairly mundane, mostly relating to balancing their own needs and desires against the need to live with other people. Perhaps it's the fact that they aren't entirely all horrible people that keeps you reading to the end where a balanced if somewhat unfair conclusion is reached, although I'm still not entirely sure what those left behind did to deserve their permanent vacation at the Travelers Rest.
Travelers Rest is published by W&N on 7th January 2016.