I'M A BIG FAN of Keith Lee Morris' stories, but I'll admit I've got a dog in the fight. He's my people. Morris grew up in my hometown of Sandpoint, Idaho (population: 7,577), before moving away to the warmer climes of South Carolina. I've never met him, but he name-checks folks I know in his acknowledgements, like my favorite high school teacher. In his great short story collections, Call It What You Want and The Best Seats in the House, our North Idaho mountain town plays a recurring character in smart, gritty tales. But even if we didn't share similar roots, I'd still be captivated by Morris' flawed characters, who drink and fight too much in wistful, toothy worlds.
His new novel, Travelers Rest, also lingers in the Panhandle, but this time in fictional Good Night, Idaho, a sleepy small town haunted by a rich mining past (based on Wallace, Idaho). The Addisons—fussy anthro professor dad Tonio, distracted mom Julia, and their precocious 10-year-old, Dewey—are dragging wayward Uncle Robbie cross-country from Seattle to South Carolina after his latest attempt to get straight in rehab. A doozy of a blizzard pulls them off the highway in Good Night to check into the Travelers Rest, a Shining example of a hotel. With dilapidated grandeur, a peculiar manager, and more snow than Stephen King's Overlook, the 1886 hotel is a very odd place—so strange that one by one, the Addisons get lost in its MC Escher labyrinth, unable to escape the fugue-inducing depths.
Travelers Rest is as languid a fable as one would expect of a novel whose main characters are basically stuck inside a snow globe for 300-plus pages. It's a slow build with themes of remembrances of things past (Proust!), the ephemera of dreams and reality of life and death, consciousness, and the intricacies of familial and romantic relationships. While stifling at times—like listening to someone else's dreams—Morris throws off the fuzzy haze by the book's end for a strong and suspenseful finish. In his artful hands, the fallible and relatable characters make for good company in the punchy cabin-fever atmosphere. With a bit of practiced patience, Morris' third novel is just as rewarding as his short stories, brimming as it is with ghosts, dream mines, and snowy mazes in his own private Idaho.