Piscataway House Publications 2013
Bud Smith’s 2013 release Tollbooth is one of the most entertaining, refreshing and compelling novels I’ve read in a long time. The protagonist, Jimmy Saare is a toll collector on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey. It opens with Jimmy saving the lives of a mother and daughter by pulling them to safety from the flaming wreckage of their vehicle after a horrific accident. It’s Jimmy’s second day on the job. Although this is a real event in the life of Jimmy Saare, toll collector, it’s also an important piece of metaphorical foreshadowing.
The story takes off from there like a bull exploding out of the chute at a rodeo, twisting, turning, bucking wildly and it doesn’t stop until it’s over. Tollbooth takes the reader on a wild ride through the interior psychological landscape of Jimmy, his hallucinatory break with reality, a marriage in the midst of crashing and burning, an impossible obsession with a nineteen year old sales clerk and his involvement with a bizarre cult and the exterior physical landscape of the Garden State Parkway, coastal New Jersey, strip malls, Iceland, and a commercial fishing trawler all the way to the gates of Hell and back again on an unexpected path to redemption.
I think Tollbooth is a wonderful book. The voice and writing set the stage for an effortless and compelling read. It’s also totally original and just plain brilliant. There’s humor, mystery, eroticism, the good, bad and ugly of human nature, mysticism, magic realism, characters I care about and “diamonds in the rough” passages of absolutely gorgeous, lyrical, poetic prose.
Although the book is an acrobatic mash-up of different genres including realism, magic realism, absurdist black humor and surrealism, none of those labels really do justice in accurately describing Tollbooth. For all of the twists and turns and forays into other worldly realities, it’s also a classic love story and solid, old school storytelling. But don’t just take my word for it. You really should see for yourself.