“The first time I heard the song ‘Guitars, Cadillacs’ by Dwight Yoakam, I was ten and had just taken my place in a string of con artists that stretched back to my grandfather, Buddy."
Part family saga, and part coming-of-age novel, Jason Skipper's superbly nuanced and captivating debut novel is set in 1980s Texas and chronicles in episodic fashion the rough around the edges members of a family who choose to live a resourceful if duplicitous life supported by legally threadbare business practices, and small-time swindling.
The novel opens with young narrator, main character, and aspiring musician Chris Saxton, who we meet working the counter of his father Wrendon’s seafood store in Ft. Worth. Chris' promising musical talent is both fostered and jeopardized by his shady family. His recently widowed grandfather Buddy, who lives in Florida, is an ex-con hustler who had taken up with a goldigger half his age who put him on a nearly life-ending bender with bourbon while tapping out his bank account.
That’s when Wrendon gets alarmed enough to grab Chris and take an emergency “24-hour vacation.” Father and son hit the two-lane blacktop to retrieve a long-estranged Buddy, duct-taping him to a La-Z-Boy in the back of a van on the Texas rebound – giving Chris the chance to be regaled with anti-Norman Rockwell tales of Wrendon's boyhood fleece jobs, and to pull his first con on a Louisiana trooper as he takes cues from Buddy. Exhilarated by the success of the whole escapade, the three speed through the night singing out country and western songs. But a pause in Wrendon’s singing draws attention to the fact that he's “only gripping the wheel and staring intently through the windshield, past the lights and farther down the road than I could see,” as if he’s trying to foresee the future, or at least the next seven years the novel covers.