The memoir The Enders Hotel chronicles a childhood and coming of age in Soda Springs, Idaho amidst hard-working grandparents, the beauty of the high desert, and the rampant alcoholism of a Western “company” town. After stints in Idaho and Washington, Schrand, his mother, and stepfather settle in Soda Springs to help Schrand’s grandmother and her husband run a brick hotel on the main street of town.
Much of the book details the magic of Schrand’s childhood in the hotel: “We spun around on the stools, drinking our cold drinks, eating pie, and discussed plans for the clubhouse” (46). Occasionally, Schrand stumbles upon the adult world in which his parents and grandparents live: passed-out men on stairways, a dispossessed trapper picking through the dumpster, and a confused man with a revolver in the lobby’s phone booth.
Schrand is careful to capture surprising details of rural life in the West: his grandmother and her female friend guide him on his first hunt. Other times, Schrand tells stories that are all too depressingly familiar: his grandfather is hospitalized over an hour away. Schrand’s stepfather intermittently takes work in neighboring states. Many of the town’s residents struggle to find and keep work, and when they fail, they often spend their days at local bars.
Like the best memoirists, Schrand’s personal story reflects larger cultural truths: the transitory patterns of his grandfather and stepfather mirror the down-on-their luck drifters who gravitate towards the hotel. The family’s booming and then busting finances parallel the state of the town’s mining-based economy. Schrand’s grandparents’ kindness to neighbors reminds us of the rich history of close-knit Western communities. Although it’s clear the maturing Schrand is looking for his own identity in the strangers who stay in the hotel, short chapters and the guests’ brief appearances in the narrative accentuate the sometimes uneven feel of a first book; nevertheless, Schrand’s memoir of the small, Western town breaks new ground.
As Schrand searches for his own manhood, he watches the trains that travel through the sagebrush valley and reflects, “They were traveling to places that mattered” (188). Many small, Western communities attempt to survive on hard work, luck, and kindness; The Enders Hotel makes Soda Springs and towns like it finally matter.
The Enders Hotel by Brandon R. Schrand
University of Nebraska Press, 2008
230 pages softcover/ $17.95
Reviewed by Andrea Clark Mason