the day 11-year-old Earl Holmes plops down a nickel to watch a
"flicker show," he dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. One night,
three years later, he gathers up his belongings, sneaks out of the
house and hops a passing train with his sights set on stardom in
California. To support himself while waiting to be discovered in
Hollywood, he works menial jobs, uses up his stack of glossies and
wears out shoe leather going to auditions. With each faint whisper
of promise, he jumps on any lead in hopes of being cast in a part
--- any part --- and eventually lands one in a "Three Stooges"
While celebrating his minor victory at the Cocoanut Grove, Earl
meets Saralee Kennedy, a lovely and talented singer from St. Louis
who smiles and winks at him while she is auditioning for Kay Kyser
and His Orchestra. Earl is immediately smitten: "He was in
love…and he showed her his love the only way he knew how: He
winked back, and smiled his Buddy Rogers smile."
While Earl dreams of stardom, Saralee dreams of settling down.
After their marriage, they have a daughter, Joan. Years later,
while Earl is off serving in the Merchant Marines, Saralee and Joan
move in with Earl's family in East Texas --- a place of lush trees
and wide sky that young Joan comes to consider home. When the war
ends, they return to California, where Joan and her mother once
again live in the shadow of her father's dream.
Decades later, Joan is divorced and leading a quiet existence in
Arizona. In 1980, her estranged son Brad returns from service in
the Navy to live with his grandparents in California. After
participating in the evacuation of Saigon and witnessing hope in
the face of chaos, Brad desperately seeks to be part of a family,
no matter how damaged.
Bret Lott's strong portrayal of place and time, his graceful
descriptions and elegantly drawn characters leap from the pages.
His behind-the-scenes peek through Earl's eyes at a bygone era of
Hollywood is flavored with rich detail. Brad’s observations
about Vietnam evacuees aboard the USS Denver brought tears
to my eyes, for both their sentiment and the author's use of
ANCIENT HIGHWAY is a thoughtful portrayal of hope in the face of
shattered dreams and healing in the face of pain. It is a book
about which I echo Earl's word: "Hurrah!"
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt ( on December 22, 2010