(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mystery Ride is primarily the story of the marriage and breakup of Stephen and Angela Landis, a couple who purchase an Iowa farm in 1971 with idealistic notions about living in the country. The novel focuses on the events of 1987, eleven years after their divorce, when Angela decides to return to the farm in Iowa from her home in Southern California in order to help their daughter, Dulcie, sort out her teenage angst. Intermittent flashbacks to the late 1960’s and mid-1970’s fill in the background of the couple’s earlier relationship and their growth apart.

The novel opens in 1971, when Stephen and Angela decide to try farming in what seems the idyllic Iowa countryside. The farm they purchase appears perfect until they smell and soon discover years worth of trash decaying in the cellar. The trash must be removed and burned after the rats in the cellar are gassed, and in the light and heat of the fire, both Stephen and Angela think of their young love and its strength in overcoming this dirty job. That optimism is soon undercut, however, because it is the farm itself that will eventually define Stephen’s identity but drive Angela away.

The novel then moves to 1987 and for the next several chapters describes the current situations in Stephen’s and Angela’s lives. Southern California has been comfortable for Angela because her second husband, Quin Vorda, is a successful agent for screen actors. Angela has been working for a volunteer organization serving low-income families. Her interest in social issues has led to a desire to write a shopper’s handbook to encourage consumers to purchase products from only those companies with responsible social, political, and environmental standards. Yet Angela is having increasing difficulty handling Dulcie’s teenage dabbling in drinking and reckless behavior, and she becomes aware of Quin’s most recent infidelity, his fourth. Angela is also newly pregnant. Meanwhile, Stephen, after six years of living alone on his barely solvent farm, invites Leah Odell and her teenage daughter Roxanne, whom he met on a trip to Chicago, to see his farm and consider moving in with him. Leah likes the farm and appreciates Stephen’s gentle demeanor toward his cows, and she and Roxanne decide to settle in shortly before Angela, at her wit’s end with both Quin and Dulcie, decides to bring Dulcie out to...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Boswell, Robert. Interview by William Clark. Publishers Weekly 240, no. 4 (January 25, 1993): 65-66. Boswell discusses his fascination with dysfunctional families and his portrayal of them in Mystery Ride and his other fiction.

Boswell, Robert. “So Much Survives a Marriage.” Interview by Susannah Hunnewell. The New York Times Book Review, January 24, 1993, p. 3. Boswell discusses his interest in examining married life and explains that he took the title of Mystery Ride from the lyrics of a song by Bruce Springsteen, whose storytelling abilities he admires.

Kakatuni, Michiko. Review of Mystery Ride, by Robert Boswell. The New York Times, January 22, 1993, p. B2. A lengthy and useful discussion of the novel.

Lee, D. “About Robert Boswell: A Profile.” Ploughshares 22, no. 4 (Winter, 1996): 216-221. A good overview of Boswell’s life and fiction.

Schofield, Sandra. Review of Mystery Ride, by Robert Boswell. The New York Times Book Review, January 24, 1993, p. 3. A provocative discussion of the novel.