A Short Synopsis by Jay S. Winston, all rights reserved
Drifter’s Escape is a 117,247 word novel that revolves around an enigmatic young woman whose identity shifts continually as she runs from her past, and the law. To those she meets, she reveals little or nothing, though most are more than willing to fill this silence with their own needs and desires. The novel’s seventeen narrators describe a wicked daughter and an angelic long-lost sister; a traumatized victim and a psychopath; a brainwashed fanatic and an enlightened being; an ideal girlfriend and a femme fatale; a criminal and an opportunity; a fantasy and a nightmare.
The reliability of each of these narrators is, to some degree, questionable. Like their subject, most are outsiders, attempting to create or re-create themselves, or forging masks behind which to hide. They are naive, lonely, cynical, self-righteous, bitter, drug-addled, idealistic, bigoted, confused. They see through lenses of rigid dogma and crudest self-interest, intoxication and mental instability, ravenous hungers and desperate illusions. They fill in one another’s gaps, and contradict one another. Some lie outright, and accuse others of lying.
The novel begins in the Summer of 1989 in Colorado, where a young woman calling herself “Sandi” is picked up hitch-hiking by latter-day hippies whom she guides in their converted school bus to a remote hot spring. Frank, the driver, is mystified, but develops an attraction to what he imagines her to be. His girlfriend, tulip (using only lower-case), feeling she’s found the beloved little sister she’s always wanted, provides her with clothing and whatever else she needs. Moon, an older passenger and professional mystic, offers acidic commentary while also unknowingly helping Sandi in her reinvention.
As these four frolic in the wilderness, the narrative leaves them to delve into conflicting versions of the girl’s past. Sandi’s given name is Trudi Sorenson. Her father was a revered (and reviled) televangelist who, three years earlier, was found dead in his home, his thirteen year old daughter’s fingerprints on the murder weapon. Since that time, she has lived sequestered in the Rocky Mountains in a community that, depending on whom one believes, is either a progressive experiment in collective living for women, as described by Sharon Ormson, who brought Trudi to the community and re-named her “Judi,” or a militant separatist compound, as described by Bill McDaid, Reverend Sorenson’s friend and business manager, who unwittingly gave the girl a ride to the bus station moments after her father’s death. Sharon attests that the good Reverend molested his child for years, enabled by corrupt Christians like Bill McDaid, and describes her own attempts to protect and guide her, if in what might appear a rather smothering manner. Bill, on the other hand, tells the story of a gifted and devoted man of God and the child he loved without reservation, even as she became corrupted by “witches, radicals, and sexual deviants” like Sharon Ormson.
As Sandi shows no interest in being dropped off anywhere, her new friends drive her east to a series of Grateful Dead parking lots. Wrapping herself in psychedelic scarves and tapestries, she blends in to the point that she is unrecognizable even to tulip’s friend Meghan, who, the semester before, had written a Women’s Studies paper comparing Trudi Sorenson to Miss Celie in The Color Purple. Following an unintentional and terrifying LSD experience, a violent encounter with a drunken biker, and another with a police officer, Sandi takes off for the northern woods with a pair of perpetually wasted college boys, Raven and Mitch. Raven describes himself as a spiritual Adonis, free-spirited, loving, and open to the universe. The reader will be forgiven for seeing him as a narcissistic, self-mythologizing, trust-funded womanizer. Mitch, his best friend, is cynical and alienated, if idealistic in his fashion, and perpetually pissed off at Raven. Each decries the other’s substance abuse. Both are obsessed with their new companion, and mystified by her ongoing transformations. They arrive at a failed “arts community” deep in the Maine woods called “Drifter’s Escape.”
Here, in what appears to be a safe idyll, the young fugitive encounters individuals living on the far fringes of society, who soon test her ability to adapt, survive, and stay free. Katerina, a burned out conceptual artist and ex-dominatrix-for-hire sees opportunity. “WoodChuck,” an amusing if possibly deranged hermit, finds a focus for his fevered obsessions. Rick, a local crystal meth dealer brings up friends for increasingly destructive bonfires and gunplay. Finally, Charlie, a would-be soldier of fortune and obsessive taper of America’s Most Wanted, thinks she looks strikingly familiar.