Sharlene Baker, Finding Signs (Warner, 1990)
[originally posted 21Mar2000]
I didn’t expect to like this book much, mostly because all the cover blurbs compare it to the annoying and overrated Beat novel On the Road ”…from a woman’s perspective.” “A feminist version of…” You know the drill. And, as usual, it pays to ignore blurb writers, ’cause this is actually a pretty fun book that bears about as much resemblance to Kerouac as the film version of Naked Lunch does to the Burroughs novel.
Yes, it has to do with riding your thumb around the country, and yes, its protagonist is a (mostly) strong female character, but I think you’d be equally wrong to characterize this either as a “feminist” novel or as an On the Road spinoff. For one thing, Kerouac never really has any idea where he’s going to end up, and he’s happiest that way; our protagonist here has every idea where she’s going to end up, even if she does go six thousand plus miles out of her way getting there (Spokane from San Diego via New Mexico, Boston, and Cheyenne). But, despite the premise, there’s none of the rootlessness of Kerouac here; we always have a sense of being grounded, of having a destination in mind—a goal. And maybe that’s what separates this book from the morass of On the Road spinoffs that do exist, that sense of destination.
Finding Signs was Baker’s debut novel, and it looks as if (after a little online searching) it’s the only one she’s written. Depressing, as there’s some talent here, and this one’s worth looking for. It shouldn’t be as hard to find as Spokane. ***