The Yukon Odyssey of a Father and Son in Search of a Mummified Human Toe ... and Everything Else
When the author and his teenage son embark on a road trip to the Yukon to seek out a macabre cocktail containing an amputated human toe, they unwittingly begin a journey into their past, present and future. SOURTOE is a true-life love story about fathers and sons, set against epic backdrops and overlooked places. It is also a road book that attempts to answer, for one father and son, a pivotal life question: Where does the road go?
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"Rollicking ... [Ron] Franscell writes in an earthy, straightforward style -- surely a result of his many years spent as a journalist -- that allows the reader to relate to him and his son. What drives much of Franscell's internal journey is the desire not to repeat the sins of his forefathers, who have created a long line of bastard male descendants who have been disconnected from their fathers."
— NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
"An exploration of generational idiosyncrasies, a philosophical excursion into the Big Questions ... and an intimate lesson in parenting in which a father learns to listen, truly listen, to his son."
— SAN ANTONIO (Texas) EXPRESS-NEWS
"An uncommon work, intimate and penetrating, and one in which Franscell lays himself bare in the most vulnerable of ways Ö a powerful book, one that reminds us that while we can't always know where the road goes with the ones we love, it's worth our time to take the trip."
— BILLINGS (Mont.) GAZETTE
"[THE SOURTOE COCKTAIL CLUB] makes its own road in the genre, and is all the more enjoyable for it. ... Itís a terrific story, too. Your days will be better for sharing it."
— TORONTO STAR
"You have done admirable work in your SOURTOE! [It] will be placed on the shelves of my American travel collection."
— WILLIAM LEAST HEAT-MOON, bestselling author of "Blue Highways"
"A superbly written yarn that's pretty darn funny [about] an offbeat, 4,500-mile trek into the Canadian wilderness. ... If you are a child or a parent, you will see something of your relationship."
— HOUSTON CHRONICLE
"Seriously funny, earthily cosmic -- how does Ron Franscell do it? SOURTOE is a world-beater of a tale of the father-son odyssey to the farthest reach of road and heart."
— IVAN DOIG, bestselling author of "This House of Sky"
"So much more than a father-son odyssey -- with a Charles Kuralt-like eye for the off-beat, whimsical and downright bizarre, Ron Franscell spins one masterful tale after another within the framework of a trip to the Yukon. My favorite, the story of man who stands on a street corner for 17 years, inspires me to begin a search of my own to discover the fate of Spooky Boots."
— W. P. KINSELLA, renowned author of "Shoeless Joe" (which became the movie "Field of Dreams")
"SOURTOE is a splendid father-and-son odyssey into some of the very last of North America's fast-shrinking wilderness. Ron Franscell's beautifully written memoir is the story of a man's determination to give his beloved son a truly memorable gift that he will never forget: a journey not just into the wild, but into a dark and astonishing family history from which their hilarious, moving, and searingly honest road trip may emancipate them both. I would rank SOURTOE with ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE and A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT in its originality and its narrative exploration of what it means, in our era, to be a father and a son. In the end, like all great books, SOURTOE is a story about the power of love."
— HOWARD FRANK MOSHER, bestselling author of "A Stranger in the Kingdom" and "Walking to Gatlinburg"
"Readers of Robert M. Pirsig's 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' will enjoy this story of a father and son on a journey, which is not as much about travel as life, family, and love. It should appeal to a wide audience."
— LIBRARY JOURNAL
"Quite simply, [Ron Franscell] is an extraordinary writer and this memoir can be read for the pleasure of his prose. "
"If youíve ever butted heads with a father, a son, or both, youíll love [SOURTOE COCKTAIL CLUB], too. It is, in fact, worth jumping into, feet-first."
— SAVANNAH (Ga.) MORNING NEWS
"Throughout your life, there will be many missed opportunities, lots of things left unsaid, and even more regrets. Reading this book wonít be one of them."
— PONOKA (Alberta) NEWS
"It's an odd and melancholy dance, this thing between fathers and sons. Ron Franscell writes with heart-breaking honesty about things the rest of us can barely articulate. Rarely have I read anything as moving about walking that tightrope between love and regret."
— WILLIAM McKEEN, bestselling author of "Highway 61: A Father-and-Son Journey Through the Middle of America"
"The most intimate book I've ever read."
— Talk radio host JACK RICCARDI, KTSA-550 in San Antonio
"A stirring meditation on life and love and relationships. Part memoir and part travelogue, SOURTOE is an extraordinary odyssey that spans generations and miles, leading us through Panama and Texas and the Yukon, through tears and laughter and the self-discovery of fathers and sons. Ö SOURTOE is a road bumpy and gritty and real, a road lined with old movies and heavy metal, a road of disappointments past and dreams of things to come, a road beside which campfires crackle with history and music and books, a road where Jack London points the way toward the Arctic Circle, a tin box, and a mummified toe. It is eloquent and funny, sometimes touching and sometimes sad, a journey lit brightly with insight and wit as Franscell and his son Matt complete an epic journey together, trying to close the distance between them as they make their way through Valhalla and across the Toad River to the land of the midnight sun and their ultimate objective, The Toe: a destination no reader will soon forget. I don't know how Franscell wrote this book, but I'm glad he did."
— DAVID W. BALL, author of "Empires of Sand" and "China Run"
"[Ron] Franscell has written an unusually intimate, penetrating book about fathers and sons and how to get out in front of generations of screwed-up relationships. Itís a road book, a heart book, a deconstruction of many lives. Itís some of the most absorbing reading Iíve done in a long, long time."
— CRAIG LANCASTER, author of "Summer Son"
"[Ron Franscell] has written about the real America and the real American family."
— Talk radio host MICHAEL SAVAGE of "Savage Nation"
"Immersing yourself in SOURTOE COCKTAIL CLUB is like having a buddy movie in your hands. Itís a history lesson and a geography lesson. There are laughs in here and not just a few tears. Most of all, love between father and son shines from the pages of this book in megawatts. ..."
— Nationally syndicated reviewer TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER of BookWorm Sez
"A funny and unfunny travelogue, an odyssey, really, of a father and son in the Yukon. Ostensibly in search of a mummified human toe but really about love and connection and fathers and sons and spending the longest day under the Alaska sun. Great read!"
— IRENE RAWLINGS, talk radio host at KBCO-AM, Denver
"He set out to find his son. In the end, he found himself. ... SOURTOE takes the reader on Franscell's internal journey to save his relationship with his son -- with whom he fears becoming estranged in the wake of a painful divorce - as well as to the resurrection of his own soul. He opens his mind and his heart, and that imbues the book with a sense of honesty that is hard to find."
— CHEYENNE (Wyo.) TRIBUNE-EAGLE
Reader Melanie Craven of Amarillo, Texas, won a preview copy of SOURTOE COCKTAIL CLUB in a Twitter contest and here's what she had to say:
"Thought-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny, you won't be able to put Sourtoe down until you've read the very last word. Journey with Franscell and Son as they discover what it means to be father and son on an odyssey of self-discovery. Discover vast wide-open and unexplored places of land and mind as you embark on an unforgettable adventure of teenage angst and mid-life crisis delivered in one powerful punch. A quest so touching and poignant, one can only hope that Franscell's son will come along and write the rest of the story."
Thank you, Melanie!
Excerpt from chapter "Halfway to Yesterday"
I don't really remember when I started dreaming about the Toe, except that it was sometime after I died and sometime before I began traveling in time.
It wasn't a proper death, of course, but my life stopped in every way when my twenty-year marriage imploded. Our undoing wasn't infidelity, money or abuse; we had simply and sadly stopped believing in each other. We had evolved into strangers who slept together. And that's all I will say about that.
At the end, a few weeks before Christmas when there was no point in pretending for the children we still loved each other, she asked me to leave. Since we had been running a small-town newspaper together, I suddenly had no job, no home and no place to go. But I went. One frosty December day, I kissed my son and daughter goodbye and hit the road.
A few miles outside of the northern plains town where we lived, I pulled off the icy road and puked out my soul into the dirty snow. From that moment on, I was no longer a husband, a father, a friend, a neighbor. I belonged to nobody and no place. I was my own ghost.
I crash-landed in a $24-a-night fleabag on Colfax Avenue in Denver called the Bugs Bunny Motel and spent a frigid Christmas morning in the back booth of a cheerless IHOP, where I called my mother and cried for a long time. When my cash ran out, a friend - a sweet, single mom suffering through her own divorce - gave me a proper bed that thankfully wasn't stained and cratered by a thousand reckless fucks.
Eventually, my ghost took refuge on the road. I got a job at the Denver Post driving more than a thousand miles a week, writing about the ethereal, timeless West - whatever or wherever that is. I bought a house up in the mountains, away from the city, but I was seldom there. I escaped the malignant undertow of my depression by driving around it, desperately seeking blue highways, working damn near every waking hour, eating countless bags of chocolate mini-doughnuts that routinely rode on my empty passenger seat, and always sleeping on the side of hotel beds farthest from the phone.
I drove more than 80,000 miles that first year, more than a lot of long-haul truckers. I often didn't know where I was going. No matter. I had lost almost everything in my life except my abiding faith that I could find a good story anywhere. I stayed just ahead of the black dog.
So I chased the ghost of Route 66, spent a few days with the sub-zero guests in an Arizona cryonics lab, found the scattered survivors of a Montana abortionist's thriving post-war baby trade, prayed in a sweat lodge with two tubby Crow Indian "warriors" where Custer died for our sins, got a sunburn in the safest spot in America, cavorted with naked freaks in the Nevada desert, and walked away unwounded from a white separatist militia compound in Idaho. I met visionaries, vagabonds and vagrants. And, oh, I fell into a war on the other side of the world, too.
It turns out there's a brittle line between being completely free and being completely lost.
I was haunted by distance - both physical and emotional - so the pull of a long, straight road was mighty. Too many long, lonely, seemingly endless highways disappeared into the distance, beckoning me. I was addicted to the siren song of humming tires. If home is not just a house, but the place where I belong, I spent that year - or maybe even the decade since - not entirely sure where my home is, so any road might lead me there.
Destination and way.
Dysphoria and escape.
Ah, but the road occasionally led me back to Matt, who was only thirteen. I would rent a motel room for a few days at a time in the town where I no longer lived and watch my son play basketball, run a race or just see a movie with him. He was beautiful to watch, a natural athlete whose mind always seemed one or two beats ahead of the action. Afterward, we often went to his favorite little Mexican place in town, where we talked about the games the way fathers and sons do, and every night I'd drop him off at his mother's house. My house, once.