Wild Bill Rides Again
by Jim Antonini
Genre: Literary Fiction
Print Length: 314 pages
Reviewed by Maxwell Gillmer
A striking story full of wit and emotion about individualism in America and how one can redefine a life when everything seems lost
Bill Moreland is average. He lives an average life in an average suburb with an unremarkable job at the same average bank he’s worked at since he graduated college. His children are spoiled screw-ups, and his relationship with his wife has tired over time, no thanks to their disagreements over lifestyle. Bill has spent 750 days just commuting to his job over the past twenty-eight years. And those days are weighing on him.
But after a tumultuous fiftieth birthday, replete with a botched business deal, bailing his son out of jail, and a fight with his drunken wife, Bill has had enough. The next day, he finds himself doing the unthinkable: he steals one million dollars from his bank and drives south.
For the next fourteen days, Bill flees the authorities on the wildest trip of his life, traversing the country from Florida to Louisiana to Texas to Colorado and all the way up to Washington State. In a mad dash with nowhere in particular in sight, he stops in towns across the country and picks up fellow travelers in need of a change. But this heavy bag of cash in Bill’s trunk isn’t a treasure to spend on himself. Bill finds himself dropping bags of ten-thousand-dollar donations to community centers and struggling schools everywhere in an impulse of charity.
Wild Bill Rides Again is more than an itinerant narrative of a man in the throes of a mid-life crisis. This is a story of American collectivism. Anchored in dive bars and restaurants, Bill comes in contact with people from all walks of life: groups of men, connected through the fragrant sizzle of a crawfish boil; a woman, alone, searching for home and a father figure; a man, hidden away in a garage in the woods, working on old cars as he spends his days in the solitude of the mountains.
Bill encounters the variability of life that America brings, and he understands just how much of his own he has stifled for the illusion of luxury. “I focused on the wrong things,”Bill says. “I will never regret walking out on the six-in-the-morning alarm clocks, the four lanes of traffic, the two-hour commutes, the bullshit meetings.”
Laying bare realities of lives wasted in soulless jobs and people trapped in materialistic behaviors, a sense of purpose begins to reveal itself. Every time Bill hands out cash, he becomes more connected to the people around him and conversely, more connected to his own sense of self. Bill becomes a legend who reveals the fact that this money is not any one individual’s money—it’s insured after all—and is rather the freedom that is due to the people of this country.
The spectacle of the capitalistic individualism complex begins to crumble under the weight of Bill’s altruism. As he steps away from the selfishness of life, going where the road takes him, he relinquishes the desire for personal gratification. Over time, a sense of community pulsates through the growing sense of what it means to be American.
Julius Stack, the FBI agent leading the manhunt, rages at how this man, a banker with no sense of criminality, can somehow escape his grasp. But that’s the thing: Bill isn’t a criminal in a moral sense. Stack is an agent of greed that has plagued this country. Self-seeking in his intentions, he is the apparatus through which capitalistic order is attempted to be restored. But as Bill is charged with the people he encounters, Stack no longer has the power to subdue the will of American mutualism.
Over the course of the novel, Bill sheds bit by bit his belief that his life must be a means to wealth, and he gives himself to his country. With every chapter, Bill becomes a more actualized character in this American landscape. Though Antonini imbues a sense of life in Bill throughout his journey, this life takes a while to solidify. Bill & his family don’t come across as fully fleshed-out characters in the book’s early sections. Though we are given a background of life, the introduction of these characters reads with less substance than they do in later chapters. However, over time, Antonini strengthens the characters in their intention and depth.
Wild Bill Rides Again is a powerful story of goodness in America. It is a condemnation of greed and individualism that runs rampant throughout the country. It serves to exemplify the predisposition for the goodwill that is imbued in American consciousness. This power of the American society is stronger than the forces that seek to stifle the mutualism that underpins community, and nothing can stop the will of self, adventure, and collectivism that drives Bill forward.
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