Southern Highway Gospel Companion is a brave and moving book. Holeman invites us to join him as he recollects a youthful pilgrimage to the land of Dixie, grappling with good and evil along the way. He has an intuitive grasp of rural southern culture and dialect, and a sometimes startling familiarity with matters of faith for one who professes a robust skepticism. I was swept along on a wave of apprehension and emotion as the author lays his hand of memories and nightmares on the table for us to read ‘em and weep. The narrative is sometimes self-deprecating, at other times myth-building. I often found myself rereading sections, not due to lack of clarity, but because of deceptively simple, impressively clever writing.
The highway itself is the author's companion. It speaks to him and he translates its siren call for the reader. More than once, he made me want to pick up my pack and walk alongside to find out where the blacktop leads. He spends equal time on the road walking and hitching rides. He describes the ‘trade’ between a driver and a rider so well that I felt a twinge of guilt upon reflecting that I, too, subconsciously want something from almost everyone I encounter.
Holeman vividly details the cast of charlatans, do-gooders and ghosts he encounters on his travels down south. How much is embellishment and how much is truth? Only the author knows but it all adds up to the perfect southern gothic memoir.
This is, at its heart, a spiritual tale. The author is haunted by a past that won’t let him go. He seeks his place in the world, seemingly more comfortable on its periphery. He challenges a God who confronts him around every corner. Reading this book, I had the impression that Holeman has one foot planted on either side of the River and is not quite sure where he wants to end up.
A storyteller this talented is a rare and happy thing to find.