Road Seven By Keith Rosson, 260 pgs.

Grad school is a funny place. There’s always one student who can’t get their act together. In Road Seven, it’s Brian Schutt, a guy who is struggling to complete his dissertation—and to complete basic job requirements, like showing up to teach his classes. As Road Seven rolls on, we find out this is because of a brain tumor. But before Brian can properly process this horrible news, his friends send him a ha-ha job listing, which he applies for on a lark: Mark Sandoval is the world’s most famous alien abductee. Everyone’s seen the big-budget Hollywood film based on his life; everyone knows the weird system of scars the aliens left on his body after they kidnapped him. Sandoval has parlayed his abduction, and subsequent fame, into a book deal and a persona as a paranormal investigator. He needs a personal assistant to help with his newest inquiry: a woman on the island of Hvildarland, off the coast of Iceland, sent him a video of a unicorn.

Keith Rosson’s most recent book Smoke City was my introduction to his stuff. In Road Seven, Rosson’s hallmark prose style is again at the fore: dude writes some serious sentences and paragraphs. The level of craft in Rosson’s work is jaw-dropping. He makes writing gorgeous, elaborate structures look effortless. Unlike Smoke City, though, Road Seven largely (but not entirely) tones down the magical realism of his previous effort. Sure, the book is nominally about alien abduction and unicorns—but there’s much more to it. Road Seven is a book about identity: Schutt and Sandoval both grapple with metaphorical demons throughout, issues of mortality, self-worth, and perception exacerbated by assumed identities. Rosson emphasizes this by shifting perspectives relatively late in the book: by pivoting to Mark Sandoval’s point of view late in the novel, the reader is jarred. Initially, I thought this late shift was an odd choice, but after some thought I think it complements the subplot involving what Rosson calls the alagableutter, the way that the forest on Hvildarland seems to bear down on the protagonists as they set up surveillance cameras to catch images of the illusive unicorn—and as they seek access to the United States military base on the island, still inexplicably manned after a period of intense activity during World War II.

I really dug the way that Keith Rosson wrote magical realism in Smoke City—and, in Road Seven, I really dig the way that he shifts focus away from what I previously perceived as his biggest strength, towards realism minus the magic. The way that he focuses on interior monologues and on reckonings is no less impactful than his early stuff, and the way that he challenges himself to defy previous blueprints is a sign of growth. I enjoyed Road Seven for its story, its craft, and its confidence: it’s a great read. I can’t wait to see where Keith goes next. –Michael T. Fournier (Meerkat Press, meerkatpress.com)