Andrew Zornoza's marvelous first book is hard to pin down. With dated and place-notated prose on one page and a captioned photo on the facing one, it seamlessly shifts its delivery from straight-ahead to a possibly unreliable photographer with captions that either expand on the text, or further question the reality and relationship between prose and picture.
In action that takes place between August 2nd and November 25th, the unnamed narrator wanders throughout the American Southwest and Mexico. Perhaps action is too strong a word, as everything seems to come across as notes written on unsent postcards. Even the dedication, "To all those I've lied to," says something about the veracity of everything that follows.
Here, in the middle of nothing, is a rusted bronze plaque: Incinerated Forest (Tree Molds). Taped to the plaque is a purple flower and a piece of paper. I pick up the paper and put the tape and flower in my pocket. A boy with a crown sitting on a rock orbiting the earth is drawn on the paper. Written underneath the drawing are the words, "What makes a desert beautiful, says the little prince, is that somewhere it hides a well."
Small moments like this one (Nov. 4, Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho) give Where I Stay its authentic voice. The narrator repeatedly finds the last shred of humanity in the modern wasteland. If Chris McCandless, the ill-fated true-life wanderer Jon Krakauer wrote about in Into The Wild, had met up with shadier characters, and decided that instead of searching for a way to live true to oneself realized that no matter how one lived it was true to them, Where I Stay could be a smarter companion to his adventures.
Zornoza manages to capture that wanderlust that has caught anyone who ever read On The Road, or realized you can get on Route 80 West and drive from New York to San Francisco. It's sad and searching, filled with the desire for experience for reasons we may not even know. As Antoine de St. Exupery wrote in Le Petit Prince, "Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." And Andrew Zornoza does it with style and grace.