9000 Miles of Fatherhood* by Kirk Millson
Cedar Fort, Inc. 2014; 216 pp
Reviewed by Clinton Crockett Peters
There's a type of book where a man (it's usually a man who makes these mistakes), after twenty some years in a mildly promising career, decides to comb through the cobwebs of his memory for a memoir. This is not to say a person should never cross over to literary writing, but that he may still need to train to tackle the labyrinths of personal reflection, no matter how spectacular the experiences he may have had.
9000 Miles of Fatherhood is a book likable in summary. Narrator Kirk Millson's Salt Lake City newspaper reshuffles its employees and leaves him at the bottom of the deck. Millson has about four months to think over the transition. He decides to spend them on a road trip to Latin America with his emotionally distant, 13-year-old son.
Millson’s cypher wife merely pouts at the pronouncement that Millson plans to drive to the Darien Gap in Panama with their pubescent child, in a twenty-year-old car with all their life savings. "You guys are going to have a lot of fun" she says. But alas, she can't go; there's bills, oh, and another daughter, oh, and supporting the family.
But responsibility would negate story, and so Millson jaunts off, jalopy and angst teen in tow, along with $9000, a bit of bitterness, and what is reoccuringly, and soon excruciatingly, a post-adolescent attitude to all things not-author.
Examples from the cover-to-cover affair of bad jokes, not-so-sly turns of phrase, and unenlightening observation: "I might have turned a trick myself for a shower and a cold beer” (1), "We were swept into the heart of the world's biggest cesspool" (31), "an STD incubator of some noisy Mexican highway" (37), "Malnourished squirts" (123), and "The high crime slum had a chip on its shoulder about the United States since being bombed during the 1989 invasion" (156).
The problem isn't his opinions necessarily, but the lack of inward-seeking. Millson rarely directs his adventure towards his own interiority.
But there are some redeeming qualities. Millson worries and finally understands just how estranged his son is, that bringing him along was an excuse to legitimize his mid-life crisis. Millson seems to be reaching for some understanding of his son, of his son as himself, and the childishness that occupies them both.
This could be a great book if it were fiction. Millson is a compelling character and the story (abstractly) lovable and rife with potential. But it would need a more cognizant and guiding hand. At a language level, Millson is too often hokey, and as a nonfiction narrator, he comes off as immensely and annoyingly un-self-aware. So a journey of discovery becomes a plodding, half-ass escape into nowhere.
** Full book title is: 9000 Miles of Fatherhood: Surviving Crooked Cops, Teenage Angst, and Mexican Moonshine on a Journey to the End of the Road