Johnson’s critically acclaimed first novel is a travel misadventure that follows Jamie and her two children as they are relentlessly slammed from city to city across America. Jamie initially flees her trailer in Oakland to escape an abusive husband and heads east on a Greyhound bus toward the comfort of her sister-in-law’s home. On the way, she encounters a cast of unsavory characters and addicts and is pulled into their lifestyle. She meets a small-time crook named Bill on the bus and after a tumultuous courtship in Chicago, they travel together to to Phoenix where his family lives. There is unfortunately no oasis for them in the desert town and their dire situation escalates into a whirlwind of death and madness.
While the book had excellent reviews, it was universally panned by the Book Club who found the subject matter overwhelming and grim. There were also concerns about the motivation of the characters and the sensationalism of each increasingly bad decision. A few readers found some value in Johnson’s prose and vivid writing style but it was not enough to overcome its plot and character development deficiencies.