Mark Jacobs's Stone Cowboy
It isn't easy to identify the hero of Mark Jacobs's second novel, Stone Cowboy. Set in present-day Bolivia with a cast of characters that range from the sympathetic to mildly disturbing, Jacobs has sketched a salty portrait of misplaced Americans in present-day Bolivia. Roger, the stranded stone cowboy, is determined to leave the country—having spent the last 10 years in 23 countries and 25 U.S. states. Swearing off the numbing, hallucinogenic drugs that padded his existence, Roger finds himself in the company of Agnes, a willowy north American in search of her magician brother, Jonathon. Reluctant at first, Roger soon holds fast to the belief that Agnes and her missing kin may be his only way out of Bolivia.
Fluidity of language and a palatable prose style infuse the story with a rawness readers can handle. Or should want to. He gives the reader enough details to establish setting and mood, without saturating the highly volatile, narcotic Bolivian scenes. Particularly moving are Roger's dream narratives, which bring the shiftless stranger-in-a-strange-land quality a fresh, uncomplicated newness:
The road down turned to grease when it rained. The night he spent on the floor of Agnes's room in Cochabamba, Roger had a dream that disturbed him, made him feel scared and amazingly lucky at the same time. If he had been a normal kind of person, the kind of person whose life was like a story that made sense—started somewhere and went somewhere else and was full of good guys and bad guys and bleachers full of roaring fans—he would have interpreted the dream as a response, finally, from God.
Readers will not feel alienated by the story of a couple of wanderers in search of a third, but rather, at odds with the protagonist, whose very nature of being disillusioned leaves the reader with shared feelings of emptiness. Roger, having shut down any capacity for showing affection, is not a particularly enduring creature. This, perhaps, was Jacob's intent. Create a character whose very existence has diminished him, left him soiled and dry. As readers, we scour the pages for the moment Roger softens. We are given a taste of this early in the story, when a brief, erotic encounter with a musician named Cherokee, begins to etch through the armor. Jacob's leaves traces of melancholy themes, while savoring the spaces unfilled.