A friend in Moscow, Idaho sent me a copy of The Enders Hotel: a Memoir by Brandon R. Schrand. He is a lecturer and coordinator of the MFA Creative Writing program at the University of Idaho. The book was the 2007 winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, and has also been chosen as a selection in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program.
First of all, I can't remember when I last read anything set in Idaho, and I was immediately taken with the setting: not just the funky family hotel of the title, but its small town of Soda Springs. There are geysers erupting all over the place. The town is named after one particular geyser located on Geyser Hill near the hotel. Capped in the 1930s, it shoots 80 to 150 feet high, every hour on the hour. Or at least it did in the 1980s when the author was growing up, providing a great play attraction. Chucking rocks and bottles at the fuming waters was a frequent pastime.
There is a hardscrabble flavor to the memoir, populated as it is by hard-working folk who don't have much to show for the labors except the most important thing of all, their pride. Anyone who showed up at the hotel was given bed and board. They would be put to work fixing up the place or doing dishes. And so, the Enders Hotel was an incredible place. Brandon grew up taking it for granted that his grandfather welcomed all kinds of homeless characters into the hotel, and we read vignettes recalling their stays, including those of a worn-out old trapper who ultimately vamoosed with Brandon's sled, an itinerant female artist who encouraged Brandon's artistic talents, and many recovering or not so recovering alcoholics.
The hotel had a maze of basement rooms probably once used by bootleggers, including one fascinating room full of suitcases left behind. It was a fine place for Brandon to grow up. He got to eat plenty of cheeseburgers and pieces of pie, spinning on a stool at the counter of the hotel's cafe. Although he did not lack for parental attention, having his grandparents, mother and perfectionist stepfather around most of the time, Brandon longed for knowledge of his true father, who he never met.
Brandon's escapades with friends are classic: building rafts, sneaking cigarettes and getting into all kinds of mischief. It's a wonder he had time for play, he worked so hard alongside his folks. By the time Brandon goes off to college, the hotel is no longer owned by his family. The boy who loved to read will become the college professor who writes this book. His journey to manhood is the deep understrata of this geyser-gurgling, all-Idahoan, all-American memoir. The accomplished style he uses to tell his many stories is deceptively spare and understated.
The book has wide appeal, and should be especially appreciated by even the most reluctant male readers. One read-alike comes to mind: The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer.
P.S. The Enders Hotel in Soda Springs ultimately underwent a million dollar renovation and now bears little resemblance to the place the author grew up in.