On this episode of the Lit Show R. Clifton Spargo speaks to Don Waters, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Arts Fellow, about his debut novel Sunland.
Waters is also the author of the story collection Desert Gothic, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His short fiction has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and anthologized in Best of the West and New Stories from the Southwest. A frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, he’s written for the New York Times Book Review, The Believer, Slate, and Outside.
The hero of Sunland, Sid Dulaney, is a thirty-something drifter on a mission to care for a sickly grandmother, his only real family, but Sid finds himself acting as a small-time drug mule to keep up with her retirement expenses. Though he runs mostly prescription meds and a few opiates from pharmacies in Nogales across the border and sells them to American retirees, he fears he’s in too deep and tries to hand off the business to a friend. Thereafter the fatalistic combination of misfortune, misguided advice from friends, and some well-timed coercion from a few cartel-connected types catches him up in a haphazard human trafficking scheme. The ensuing misadventures expose the often absurdist politics presiding over the borderlands between the Southwest United States and Mexico.
Robert Boswell calls Sunland “a seriously comic novel about the expense of good intentions in the twenty-first century.”