Hotels are, by design, geared toward a mostly generic experience. Keep everything as neutral as possible to decrease the likelihood of a guest finding something offensive.
It’s also true hotels don’t go for a purely bland experience, and will work to add minor flourishes to differentiate themselves.
“The devil is in the details,” as the saying goes, and in “Travelers Rest,” it could turn out to be true both figuratively and literally.
Keith Lee Morris previously plumbed the depths of human foibles in his excellent “The Dart League King,” with characters wrestling with their fates, determined to make sense of their lives even if they couldn’t control them. “Travelers Rest” flips that idea, with characters trying to regain control over their lives, even if what’s happening doesn’t make the least bit of sense to them.
In the midst of a blizzard, a family — parents Tonio and Julia, Uncle Robbie (Tonio’s brother) and young Dewey — are forced off the highway by the weather, seeking shelter for the night.
They find it in a strange hotel teetering between disrepair and restoration. The family, as a family will, has unresolved tensions — Robbie is an alcoholic, his brother Tonio resents having to care for him and the easy way Robbie interacts with Julia. Dewey is smart beyond his years.
We should get it right out into the open: No, this isn’t a stealth review of a certain classic Stephen King novel. You’d be forgiven for thinking it is, there are some clear parallels.
Morris has some different ideas for his characters. Not long after their arrival, Robbie sneaks off to the local dive bar and spends the night with some local regulars. Tonio and Dewey look for someone in the hotel to speak to and find nobody; separated, Tonio goes outside and finds himself walking down a snowy alley that seems to get longer as he walks, unable to turn back. Julia goes looking for her family, or anyone, and finds the hotel has changed around her in ways she can’t quite place.
Tonio, without explanation, finds himself in a sitting room with a Mr. A. Tiffany, which also happens to be the name of the man in charge of the hotel’s construction more than 100 years ago. Robbie meets a woman who treats him like he’s never leaving town again. Dewey is taken under the wing of a diner owner who says he grew up in this town — against his will.
Morris brings all of the characters in and out of one another’s storylines in ways that it wouldn’t be fair to divulge here. The more fantastical elements of the story are revealed in ways that downplay any sort of science-fiction genre comparisons; Morris is more interested in the lives of these characters than whether they are time-traveling, or caught in some devil’s trap with no means of escape.
As in his other books, he’s interested in what regular people do when faced with no-escape scenarios, and it makes for compelling read.
“Travelers Rest” by Keith Lee Morris (368 pages; Little, Brown and Co.; $27)