“Above the footnotes (which serve as a kind of guide to Mormonia and the Utah Jazz) in this fine first novel, Darren DeFrain serves up the trials of Brian, another young American caught between his religion and the hard places of youth. This bittersweet homecoming, about a part of the world I know well, is both tough and tender, and certainly convincing. This novel is an engaging debut by a writer to watch.”
~ Ron Carlson, author of At the Jim Bridger: Stories and A Kind of Flying: Selected Stories
“With the publication of The Salt Palace, we welcome a brave new voice to American fiction. Darren DeFrain is one hell of a writer. The marvel of this gritty and propulsive first novel is that DeFrain, right out of the gates, has staked claim on a wild new territory of desperate love, alienation, heartbreak, and redemption. A stranger in his own land, our hero Brian is driving across America to find himself or to lose himself, he’s not sure which. He’s got a passenger with him — Randy, a one-armed Mormon Lone Ranger, a character as memorable as any I’ve met in contemporary fiction, and there’s room for one more. So hop on in, but strap on your seatbelt and hold on to your hat. The road’s a little bumpy up ahead.”
~ John Dufresne, author of Deep in the Shade of Paradise
“The Salt Palace is a novel that zigzags across America, across our religion-soaked history too: our national obsession with shorter, faster routes to redemption. Its protagonist, Brian, leaves his claustrophobic life in Michigan to revisit his childhood home and faith. He wants to live in it, and outside it too, sampling all the generous, heady, forbidden sensation. He makes this trip with a one-armed, splinter-sect prophet who might be a lunatic. It’s never clear. Neither is the right path. Yet Brian and therefore the reader is granted a fleeting glimpse of a grace-filled, ecumenical afterlife the most cynical of us would be glad to inhabit. I loved this novel, its risks and realities.”
~ Debra Monroe, author of Shambles, Newfangled, A Wild, Cold State, and The Source of Trouble
“If you think we don’t need another heavily footnoted Mormon road trip basketball novel, think again. With this unorthodox gem, Darren DeFrain creates a genre of his own, with the athletic ease of the Angel Moroni going in for a layup. Thoughtful, deadpan, shot through with comic inspiration, it’s a debut worth doing the wave for.”
~ J. Robert Lennon, author of MAILMAN
DeFrain uses imagery of light and dark as if the night sky is a source of revelation often obscured by Brian’s muddled life. He finally makes it to his parents’ house and helps them load the moving van. “It is completely dark…and there are no stars shining through the clouds; only the smallest portion of moonlight is making it down to me in my parents’ drive-way.” In several scenes he looks from the dark outside upon someone illuminated from within the house.
Often he is looking in from outside, wanting to experience the real, whatever that is. He reflects, “The present is some long justification of our past we keep arriving at, only we can’t ever arrive there.”
The novel’s ending is startling and ambiguous, unfinished (like the playoffs), uncertain, much like Brian’s life. The story reverberates and unsettles, long after reading.
— Gordon Houser, The Wichita Eagle (October 23, 2005). Read the full review here.