Wild Bill Rides Again by Jim Antonini
Remember news anchorman Howard Beale from the classic 1976 Oscar-winning movie Network, who proclaims in the middle of a seemingly nervous breakdown that he is “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore?” Beale, who observed the injustices and misfortunes of a society in the throes of a depression and had the pulpit to share his views (as long as his network execs didn’t pull the plug), became as much a cult hero as a danger to the society he sought to correct.
Bill Moreland, a bank president and protagonist in Jim Antonini’s swift and clever Wild Bill Rides Again (Pump Fake Press), isn’t on a crusade to change the world — but rather make a major course correction in his own. He is successful, lives in a nice home, and provides everything his wife and two entitled children could possibly want. But his inner demons cause a crack in that nice, neat equation, and Bill snaps. “The miles had not only mounted on the dashboard of his car but on his spirit.” He had to do something, and fast, to offset the decades of monotony.
So he steals a million dollars from his bank and disappears, apparently without a plan.
Bill begins a journey driving across the country, leaving his stale life behind and experiencing the freedom of unrestricted adventure and openness to whatever life presents — through Florida, New Orleans, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and beyond. He hasn’t a care in the world or a single obligation to fulfill. Except that he is now a fugitive. Then something hits him, perhaps spur of the moment. He enters a tattered Florida Boys and Girls Club in need of many repairs and renovation, and hands the man at the desk $10,000 and tells him this is for the kids.
And that’s only the beginning. Bill finds needy people and places throughout his travels and makes huge donations that they can’t understand. His disappearance is a lead news item, as are the large anonymous gifts being left in his path. When two and two are put together and people believe he is the donor, he develops an unofficial cult following, with as many people rooting him on as a folk hero versus the relentless FBI agents and media who see him as robbing a bank and abandoning his family.
Along the way, he picks up two partners in crime — Kat, an attractive young bartender from New Orleans also looking to make a break with her mundane existence, and Leo, a young motel handyman/drifter caught up in helping Bill and Kat. Bill knows he can’t go home again, despite his distraught wife Rita begging for his return and for the FBI agents to report some positive news.
So is Bill a hero or a villain? Literally, he’s both. Figuratively, choose your preference, although Antonini’s narrative and insights certainly point readers in one direction. Then there’s getting into Bill’s head, which the author does so acutely. Through it all, there is the serenity that Bill feels as a result of his decisions. With Bill staring at the landscape, Antonini writes, “After nearly two weeks and 1,500 miles, he stood tall in the mountain. He was in the stars. He was one of them. They shined as if they belonged to him. He was no longer insignificant or forgettable but as big as the sky.”
Jim Antonini has given us a marvelous adventure story of a man on the run, from his life and the law. It is written fluidly, keeping readers on the move with his main characters. And he has given us much to think about — not in the sense of prompting us all to escape our current existence and step over boundaries to seek something better. But perhaps to cherish what we have and be grateful for it, even if this volatile world of ours will always plant seeds allowing us to contemplate the wild and crazy.
The first, Bullets for Silverware (May 2020), is a gritty, murder-mystery thriller set in the backwoods of West Virginia. It was a finalist for the Appodlachia 2020 Best Appalachian Book of the Year. The second, Like Falling From an Airplane (March 2022), is a romantic, urban drama set on the downtown streets and back alleys of San Francisco. Visit jimantonini.com.
Publish Date: August 8, 2023
Genre: Fiction, Thrillers
Author: Jim Antonini
Page Count: 314 pages
Publisher: Pump Fake Press