Set in the 1920s, Eastbound from Flagstaff by Annette Valentine is the story about Simon Hagan, his inner struggles with love, and the tragedy that many times can be a consequence of that love. The story begins in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1929. As Hagan prepares to finally welcome the love of his life, who is arriving eastbound from Flagstaff, his anxiety sets in as the bus station clerk starts to inform Hagan that the bus is usually on time, but… Before the clerk can finish his sentence, the clerk's phone rings. Valentine ends the first chapter with Hagan thinking, “And once again, I felt powerless.” Valentine then jumps back to 1902, and the beginning of the Hagan’s life.
Historically, Valentine takes readers on one man’s journey through the first thirty years of the 20th century. By telling Hagan’s story, she unfolds how life was for a common man who was born into a Kentucky tobacco farming family. After the death of his mother, Hagan leaves the farm and moves to Detroit to work in the automotive industry. After befriending a local family, he eventually finds work as a police officer, following in the tradition of most of the men in this family. Sadly, just as Hagan’s life starts to fall into place, he ends up having to move to New Mexico because of a diagnosis of tuberculosis (TB). Soon after his time in the sanatorium, the Great Depression hits, and Hagan finds himself coming full circle back to his Kentucky roots, setting the stage for the next phase of his adult life.
The history Valentine weaves into Hagan’s journey as he experiences multiple emotions triggered by personal events, builds a story that readers can relate to. Valentine crafts a story that helps readers feel Hagan’s pain, his sorrow, and even his anger when life deals blows that make him question his faith. Valentine equally weaves in Hagan’s passion for those closest to him, which enhances the sense of sorrow that a man, during this time, would have felt.
Although Valentine sets up the theme of Hagan’s feeling of being powerless, which leads to his struggle with faith, this theme soon becomes obscure in the everyday details of Hagan’s life. It is only toward the end of Hagan’s journey that Valentine returns to the sense of inner conflict that takes the main character back to where his sorrows began. It was at this point that I went back to re-read the first chapter and was able to see how Valentine did use the theme to subtly move the story forward.
Eastbound from Flagstaff is a story of a man, who like many men of this time period, experienced love and suffered heartache because of the times. This is a story, almost a personal narrative, of a regular guy and his life at the beginning of the 20th century. While the details and descriptions throughout the novel are evocative, the slow pacing of the plot somewhat hindered the actual telling of the story for readers who expect a faster, exciting pace. Eastbound from Flagstaff is recommended for readers who enjoy a slow build, lots of detail, and don’t mind waiting for the action.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Cathy Smith