21st Century Literature discussion

The Never-Open Desert Diner (Ben Jones, #1)
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9/19 Never Open Desert Diner > Never-Open Desert Diner-The Whole Book (spoilers okay)

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message 1: by Casceil (last edited Sep 15, 2019 04:40PM) (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I am not sure how many people are interested in discussing this book. Those who have commented so far have already finished the book. If there is anyone out there who is interested but has not finished reading, let me know where you are in the book and I can set up a discussion thread for any who are still reading.

Whitney commented on the Chapter One thread that this was a book she might not have ever noticed is it were not picked for discussion here. I might not have never noticed it if it had not appeared as a Kindle daily deal. I read it with no particular expectations--certainly not high expectations--and I was delighted with it in the end. The book does not really meet this group's normal discussion criteria. It is not a book I expect anyone to remember in fifty years. Is it great literature? Probably not. But it is worth reading, and special in some ways. It has a strong sense of place. The lonely highway in the high desert, where few people live but those who do are as tough as they come. It has quirky characters. Those characters are well-rounded, and have obvious flaws but also an underlying strength and often kindness. And the book is full of sentences I love. Here's one:

It was a ghost town without the town and without the ghosts, since no one had actually ever lived there. I imagined ghosts of ghosts, less than ghosts, and I felt oddly welcomed into their company.
From p. 8, Kindle version.

I'm going to throw this open for comments, in case any of you have questions or points you would like to discuss.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments This read more like a wild card pick that what we typically read as a moderator's choice, but that's not a complaint. I bought a used hardcover, first edition for just over $3, so no complaints there! It is a rather unique thriller and I've already bought the second in the series in the Kindle version. I agree that is has a strong sense of place, which is something I like.


Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
I just finished it. I agree it is probably more of a wildcard, but that's a conclusion I came to only about half way through, at which point I started enjoying the book more and mentally criticizing the tropes less. I'd been thinking more Kent Haruf when I should have been thinking Denis Lehane; entirely my fault for not paying more attention to the "Ben Jones #1" series title.

I enjoyed the setting and the writing quite a bit. I though some of the best writing was in the details that weren't integral to the story, such as the end of the highway, or the not-really-a-road that led to the waterfalls and the pond beneath.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments Good comparison to Lehane, one of the best thriller authors and one who can on occasion turn a more than decent phrase.


message 5: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I'll agree that this book is more like a wild card pick. But it was my turn to lead a discussion, and this book appealed to me. One comment I have seen turn up repeatedly in reviews is to the effect of, "I was surprised that I liked this book so much." I did not notice that it claimed to be book one of a series. It was only after I finished the book that I noticed the following dedication:

Dedicated in memoriam to the following authors for creating characters who became some of the best friends I’ve ever had, real or imaginary: ROSS MACDONALD (1915–1983) for Lew Archer (California) JOHN D. MACDONALD (1916–1986) for Travis McGee (Florida)

Anderson, James. The Never-Open Desert Diner (p. v). Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments I saw that dedication. John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee is one of my favorites - my sister, my father, and I read the series religiously. A few years ago, I bought used mass market paperbacks of the entire series in memory of our shared reading experience.


message 7: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I was also a fan of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. I did not read all of them, but I liked the ones I read. Maybe I will go back and try some again.


Mark | 269 comments If you liked the setting, be sure to read Edward Abbey's Monkey Wrench Gang. Anderson's book is 1/2 Abbey and 1/2 McDonald. Come to think of it, that's also Tony Hillerman.


message 9: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I have not read The Monkey Wrench Gang, but I have read some Tony Hillerman. Desert Diner seemed to me to have a very different mood. I agreed with so many of the author's comments about the desert, like how at sunset, when you face away from the sunset, the sky there is also beautiful. Hillerman's characters have a strong relationship with the land, but it is different somehow.


message 10: by Ella (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ella (ellamc) argh -closed the page without posting what I'd written.

First - thanks for getting me to read this. It was a kindle daily deal ages ago, and I've had it on my kindle for years without reading it, so thank you for finally giving me the push I needed to read a book I own!

I loved the desert writing/setting - I could've stayed in that desert forever. What I didn't love was the romance. I'm not ever a lover of romances, so this wasn't a shock to me. It may also have simply been a bad timing thing for me. I thought about stopping and trying at a later date, but given the long wait I'd already taken, I wanted to finish.

I'm thrilled to read the suggestions for other similarly-set books. While looking for the Monkey Wrench Gang at my library, I noticed they have Desert Solitaire so I ordered that - sounds wonderful.


message 11: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Ella, Thanks for sharing the reference to Desert Solitaire. I have not come across that one before.

What bothered you about the romance? Was it that a romance seemed out of place in this book, or was there something particular about the way this romance was handled? Did it seem like Ben and Claire became lovers too abruptly?


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments My father was another big fan of John D. MacDonald, and we had them around the house when I was growing up (although the book I remember best of MacDonald's is The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything, which is screwball comedy science fiction of all things).

I think the romance was there primarily to end tragically, which is a thing, I suppose. I didn't love that aspect -- I suspect it was there to be another way for the universe to kick Ben in the face. But overall the book was enjoyable.


message 13: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Ella, I'm with you on the romance. Compared to the other plot threads, it felt like a guy's fantasy. The thing I'll remember from the book is the desert (aside from the "granite" bluffs) and the fake mountain biker. It's the desert that ties this to Hillerman and Abbey. (Also Laughing Boy, while I'm at it.)


Nadine (nadinekc) | 405 comments I read this book over a year ago so I didn't think I'd have enough memory of it to comment, but I definitely remember that the romance brought my enoyment to a screeching halt. I'm not a fan of 'romantic romance' in fiction. I'm doing a reading challenge that includes a 'romance or love story' and I fulfilled it by reading Bear ;)

Here's what I wrote about the romance in my review:

"Claire felt like a male fantasy stereotype - not even close to being a real woman (although points for making her short, at least). Likewise for her backstory. And the cringe-worthy sex scene. These negatives far outweighed my interest in the solving the mildly mysterious mystery."


message 15: by Ella (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ella (ellamc) Casceil wrote: "What bothered you about the romance? Was it that a romance seemed out of place in this book, or was there something particular about the way this romance was handled? Did it seem like Ben and Claire became lovers too abruptly?."

All of the above. It didn't feel real, but then lots of this book didn't feel real, so that can't be my only problem with it. It just felt silly and completely took me out of the book I was liking a fair bit. I agree with Nadine's comment about "screeching halt" of enjoyment.

But as I said, I'm not much of a romance reader ever. The most romantic books make me a bit queasy. Not sure why, I love real love, but romance writing has to be pretty good for me not to get overly annoyed at some aspect of it. I would have preferred if we went deeper into the desert and its denizens or the mystery. I was fine with a sort of hazy women with cello until she actually became part of the book. I liked it better off to the side.

Happy to be able to find a book that everyone hasn't already read. It looks really good, so hopefully my library will get me a copy soon.


message 16: by Whitney (last edited Sep 17, 2019 03:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Whitney | 2066 comments Mod
The romance was one of those things that was slightly less annoying once I accepted that I was reading a book of a particular genre. I don't read enough of them to know if the have a particular designation, but it's the "not a cop or detective but a knight errant type character who falls into mysteries". Anderson is a good enough writer to produce some great descriptions of place, but not good enough to transcend many of the tropes of the genre, including:

The mysterious femme-fatalish women who our hero falls for and they are apparently soul mates after exchanging 10 words. She dies horribly in his arms.

The man of few words who is there to sacrifice himself for the damsel in distress, and is always stoic about the resulting psychic wounds.

And while I'm a tad fatigued by the "damsel in distress as male motivation" trope, I'm pretty much entirely done with the "horrific rape as male motivation, as well as source of pity for said male" trope.

There was one line in the book that gave me hope Anderson was going to deal with the above tropes in a more subversive or considered manner, "Did she need my help? I remembered a definition of chivalry I'd heard once; a man protecting a women against every man but himself." Alas, awareness of the problem did not seem to be enough for Anderson to overcome it. This is a first book, though, so maybe he'll be more nuanced in the future.


LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2299 comments I like your analysis Whitney. Hopefully Ben won't have a "romance" every book or be some woman's savior. Of course, he failed miserably as a savior in this one ….. I have the second book on Kindle but with the NBA fiction long list due Thursday (I try to read them all), I'll be to busy to get to it anytime soon, as I doubt I've read too many of the books that will be on the list.


message 18: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
I think the genre is "noir." I think the tragic ending is a characteristic of the genre. I found the romance kind of annoying, but I wouldn't go so far as to say it "stopped my enjoyment in its tracks." I have puzzled over the purpose of the romance. It seemed to be there partly to develop the relationship between Ben and Walt.


message 19: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark | 269 comments Thank you Whitney for your summation, hee hee.


message 20: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 561 comments I just finished the book and enjoyed it overall. Similar thoughts as others - maybe not the most complex book, but I enjoyed the plot changes and the characters and the setting. I listened to it as an audiobook and really enjoyed the narrator. Always a bit somber, but engaged with the story, which seemed to fit the tone of the book well for me.


message 21: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Bretnie, How did you feel about the romance? Did you find it annoying, or just part of the story?


message 22: by Bretnie (new)

Bretnie | 561 comments Casceil, I did think they went from her holding a gun at him to talking about love and even marriage REALLY quickly, but for some reason it wasn't a huge deal to me. I think I liked both Claire and Ben as characters so I didn't mind the unrealistic romance. Sometimes those things bug me and sometimes I'm able to let them go and just enjoy the story.


message 23: by Casceil (new)

Casceil | 1692 comments Mod
Bretnie, that makes sense. I liked the characters too, and that may be why I wasn't too picky about the plot.


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