Roam by Erik Therme
Self-Published (January 2017)
244 pages; $9.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Josh Black
Roam, Erik Therme’s third novel, begins in deceptively typical fashion. A broken down car, and a couple of kids with no cell reception.
It’s Sarah Cate’s 21st birthday. Unfortunately for her, she’s spending the nightfall stuck with her boyfriend Matt, miles from any sort of civilization. It’s unfortunate because Matt’s not just a bit of a jerk, he seems to be a full-blown narcissist, and the potentially violent kind at that. When it seems like things are about to get out of hand, Sarah takes her chances on a long walk down a dark road. She’s picked up by a recent high school grad named Kevin, and from there the story goes down a road of its own, each twist and turn subverting expectations.
Needing solace from the fallout of her not-so-great birthday, Sarah goes to visit her old friend Scotty. Along the way we learn more about the pasts of the four main players. As these pasts are revealed and ultimately converge, Therme broaches subjects like abuse, writing and publishing, strained family ties, guilt, redemption, hope, and paying it forward. There’s a hint of the supernatural in there somewhere, but it’s downplayed. At its heart, Roam is a story about broken people struggling to persevere against their personal demons.
Despite shifting perspectives throughout, Sarah is essentially the main protagonist. She’s the weakest personality of the bunch, but there’s so much going on around her that the reader can join in her angsty uncertainty and just enjoy the ride. Each character gets some time in the spotlight, and they’re all well-developed.
The way Therme weaves in so much character detail without losing momentum is impressive, particularly considering the fact that he tends to do this in flashbacks. Some of these, narrated in a loose and conversational tone, are like stories told between friends after a few drinks. Dialogue can be tricky to write but Therme nails it. The simplicity of the prose works to Roam‘s benefit. Its lack of flourish leaves the the story to speak for itself.
Roam was a nice surprise. It’s cleverly constructed, filled with characters you’ll easily root for or despise, has that just-one-more chapter feeling the whole way through, and still provides plenty of food for thought well after the last page is turned. Very much recommended.