It’s the part where we still have trouble remembering the name of the town. We know it’s somewhere in Arizona, and we see the streets are nearly deserted. We see signs in some of the windows saying yes or no, telling us this town is in some sort of trouble, but we don’t yet have a clue what that trouble might be.
We’re seeing all of this through lens of the 16mm camera, which now pans up to the empty highway leading away from town. Our vision distorted by the wriggling heatwaves rising from the sun-baked asphalt, we see a wisp of dust in the distance. Something is moving slowly toward us. It grows in the camera’s eye until we make out the shape of some sort of military vehicle--yeah, a Jeep!--bouncing along and getting bigger and bigger. And now we hear from somewhere, maybe coming from the approaching Jeep, oo-we-oo-we-ooo waa waa waaa…
CUT! Goddammit, who’s playing that goddam Morricone theme?
Waitaminute, that angry voice doesn’t have an Italian accent. In fact, it sounds more like a Mel Brooks New York accent, but he’s dead. Simon? Apatow? Dunno, but that director is not Sergio Leone! So what in hell’s going on here?
If I might relieve the suspense for a moment, this screwball scene is a figment of my corona-torqued imagination, set to twanging by the hilariously screwball novel Hopscotch Life, a twisted romp by mystery writer Kris Neri of Silver City, New Mexico.
Our troubled Arizona town, Applewood, is a figment of Neri’s quirky imagination, as is the stranger approaching on the deserted highway in her dilapidated Jeep Wrangler...waitaminute, did I say “her?” I sure did, and thus endeth even the pretense of an oo-e-oo-e waa waa spaghetti western unless we accept Hopscotch Life in the satiric light Neri’s imagination might well have suggested. Add to this the revelation our stranger, who’s presumably here to save Applewood from itself, has a name—in fact it’s Plum Tardy—and we might as well...what? Plum Tardy? OK. OK, the jig is up, but may I remind you I’ve already let that cat out of that bag, calling Hopscotch Life a “twisted romp?” The cat, by the way, called Scrappy, is a stray that takes to Plum like a plum to pudding, if I may, and moves in with Plum in the apartment above the bookstore she buys with cash from the satchel she brought with her in her hopscotch dash from Santa Monica, California, after finding another woman in bed with her schmuck of a fiance when she arrives home unexpectedly after losing her job as an executive chef in a restaurant her boss abandoned after stealing everything that wasn’t nailed down.
Hopscotch. It’s how Plum Tardy characterizes her life of impulsively leaping this way and that, sometimes with nary a thought as to why or where she would land. A vague memory of family friends mentioning Applewood as an idyllic vacation spot they’d enjoyed, and some mysterious empty envelopes with an Applewood return address prompted this most recent hop.
Leaving behind her flighty, man-hopping mom, who’s in a coma in a nursing home, and a hoity toity lawyer younger sister, she at first welcomes the sensation of being in a strange place, where no one knows her, no one to remind her of the failures she’s always blamed on her hopscotchy self. She quickly makes friends, even the odd, grumpy woman who owns High Desert Books where Plum, who loves to read, stops by to browse, ends up staying in the apartment above the store, and...well, no need to repeat myself.
The town, as we expect, has a bully who’s leading the fight to bring an unwanted shopping mall to town. Naturally, Plum sides with the townspeople who fear losing the laid back charm of Applewood and the competition with their local businesses. Plum lets the opponents of the mall meet in the bookstore, calling the bully’s bluff when he arrives with sheriff’s deputies to stop the meeting. Soon thereafter, during the bookstore’s grand opening, the deputies return, this time with an arrest warrant for Plum, charging her with stealing $40,000 from the woman she’d caught in bed with her fiance. She’s taken back to Santa Monica in handcuffs and leg chains to face the charge.
This is where Sergio Leone would cue up the oo-ee-oo-ee waa waa to heighten the suspense, and it’s where we will leave off so’s not to spoil the tale for all of you waiting breathlessly to click the title cyberlink in the fourth paragraph down that will take you to the book’s page at Amazon.com.
And one last plot thickener in case you just can’t stand not knowing a tad more: the race car driver Plum had grown up believing was her father and who gave her his surname, and who died in a fiery crash when she was a child, was, in fact, not. There. Now I will cue up the oo-ee-oo-ee waa waa...while you click one of the cyberlinks embedded above.