“I want to repeat one word for you: Leave.” Donald Miller writes this in the author’s notes in the beginning of his recently republished, re-edited book Through Painted Deserts. Prayer and the art of Volkswagen maintenance, received a new alias and was revised and republished by the author of the critically acclaimed Blue Like Jazz in mid 2005.

Donald Miller is perhaps one of the most candid writers that I have had the opportunity to read. Through Painted Deserts is a personal look into a three-month cross-country trip in a Volkswagen camping van with his best friend Paul. It probably sounds like every other “leaving home in a van book” ever written. But there is no acid tripping, drug smuggling Hunter S. Thompson-esqe antics happening, and somehow it still forces the reader on. Maybe because you can put yourself in Miller’s shoes and with every chapter, just like every mile “lessens the weight” on your chest. Maybe because you feel what he says when he writes: “It is true some do not do well with conventional life.” And the trip is anything but conventional.

Van breakdowns, random stops, off-subject dialogue, trips to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and the ever-popular growing game of “night golf” fill the chapters. Time is a superfluity “My watch ticks inside my boot. I don’t need it. I’m not late for anything.” Says Miller. I’m convinced that Jack Kerouac himself would have been proud of this book. Don and Paul were beatniks not loaded with benzine tubes, but rather, loaded with questions. “Sometimes I admire people who don’t ask why questions, who only want to know the how, of life.” And through conversations, constant van repair, and no particular destination the how of life is certainly scrutinized. Miller shows that “Life cannot be understood flat on a page…a person has to get out of his head, fall in love…stand in an empty deserts and whisper sonnets under his breath: ‘I’ll tell you how the sun rose/ A ribbon at a time.'” Through Painted Deserts is indeed the search for “light, God, and beauty on the open road” that the cover iterates.

Not only is Miller a quaint, down-home writer, but also his use of vivid imagery, detailed description and humor make him somewhat of a “total package” author. Read Through Painted Deserts if you need to be convinced. In the closing parts of his author’s notes Miller writes “soon you will be in that part of the book where you are holding the bulk of the pages in your left hand, and only a thin wisp of the story in your right. You will know by the page count, not by the narrative that the Author is wrapping things up. You begin to mourn its ending, and want to pace yourself slowly toward its closure, knowing the last lines will speak of something beautiful, of the end of something long and earned, and you hope the thing closes out like last breaths, like whispers about how much and who the characters have come to love, and how authentic the sentiments feel when they have earned a hundred pages of qualification.”

The Waynedale News Staff

Andrew Scheer

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