* “Most Anticipated Books of 2023” — LitHub * "Page One" feature at Poets & Writers * "12 Must-Read Books of January 2023" — Chicago Review of Books * "Must-Read Paperbacks to Kick Off 2023" — Book Riot * "30 Indie Books to Look Out for in 2023" —Independent Book Review
Provocative, poignant, and resoundingly hilarious, The Red-Headed Pilgrim is the tragicomic tale of an anxious red-head and his sordid pursuit of enlightenment and pleasure (not necessarily in that order).
On a sunny day in a business park near Portland, Oregon, 42-year-old web developer Kevin Maloney is in the throes of an existential crisis that finds him shoeless in a field of Queen Anne’s lace, reflecting on the tumultuous events that brought him to this moment. Growing up in the suburbs, young Kevin suffered “a psychological break that ripped me from my humdrum existence” mainlining high fructose corn syrup and episodes of The Golden Girls. Thus begins a journey of hard-earned insights and sexual awakening that takes Kevin from angst-ridden Beaverton to the beaches of San Diego, a frontier-themed roadside attraction in Helena, Montana, and a hermetic shack on an organic lettuce farm.
Everything changes when Kevin falls in love with Wendy. After a chance tarot reading lands them on the frigid coast of Maine, their lives are unsettled by the birth of their daughter, Zoë, whose sudden presence is oftentimes terrifying, frequently disturbing, and yet—miraculously—always wondrous.
The Red-Headed Pilgrim is an irresistible novel of misadventure and new beginnings, of wanderlust and bad decisions, of parenthood and divorce, and of the heartfelt truths we unearth when we least expect it.
“In the throes of an existential crisis, a middle-aged web developer renounces his humdrum life in Portland, Ore., and embarks on a cross-country trip, finding love, meaning and a new life on the coast of Maine.” —New York Times, "Newly Published"
"Like his indie lit peer Scott McClanahan, Maloney’s writing is deeply indebted to Vonnegut’s mix of heartbreak and humor, but The Red-Headed Pilgrim’s emulation of Slaughterhouse-Five’s opening chapter isn’t just for show; its placement points to the central question of the book: Is it possible to separate your own narrative from the ones you discovered in your formative years?" —Kevin M. Kearney, The Millions (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"Despite how often he screws up, you just can’t help pulling for him. The Red Headed Pilgrim is one of the funniest and fastest flying books you could ever read and may just appeal to the repressed Jack Kerouac living secretly inside of you." —Tony Alcantara of Explore Booksellers, The Colorado Sun "What Explore Booksellers suggests for your March reading list"
The Red-Headed Pilgrim included in coming out, "NEW ENGLAND LITERARY NEWS" —Nina MacLaughlin, The Boston Globe (January 19, 2023)
“Maloney’s revisionist treatment of Western themes make The Red-Headed Pilgrim the offspring (dare I say red-headed step-child?) of the Acid Western genre. And I don’t believe it’s overly generous to say that The Red-Headed Pilgrim is the next iteration of the Western, one with enough music and heart to propel the genre into the twenty-first century and beyond.” —Nick Gardner, Cleveland Review of Books (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"Infinitely quotable, the book draws comparisons to the aforementioned Richard Brautigan, Denis Johnson, and other bards of the down-and-outer... [The] sad-sack portions are laugh-out-loud funny, as bad as you feel for the novel’s narrator. Despite the pilgrim’s goofiness, the stakes are clear, and he truly wants to be a good father. His earnestness makes every setback all the more heartbreaking... Maloney’s novel cuts out the past twelve years of his life as an office drone. The important parts are the years when he was young. Making mistakes. Foolishly trying to achieve an impossible enlightenment. Those are the parts ripe for a novel, at least. Those really were the days. Burning so bright." —Zachary Kocanda, Heavy Feather Review (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"...how does a person exist in the fringe of society while still tending to one’s own responsibilities? ... The Red-Headed Pilgrim embodies much of the same questions and themes found in Kerouac, Thoreau, and Whitman, yet it also feels wholly unique and of this time. It is full of suffering and beauty, and it lurches towards truth in its haphazard way that feels a lot like life. It is a book about yearning—for love, for art, for a different kind of life, for spirituality, and, ultimately, for a sense of one’s identity." —Shelby Hinte, Write or Die Magazine Interview: "Kevin Maloney: On Writing with a Day Job, Parenthood, How Twitter Made Him a Better Editor, and His Novel ‘The Red-Headed Pilgrim’"
“It’s hard to write an honest book. It’s even harder to write an honest book that is charming, hilarious and doesn’t make the author sound like a crusty, tower-dwelling sage. If the character Kevin Maloney were a Tarot card, he would be The Fool, card zero, the starry-eyed hero on the first step of his beautiful, terrifying journey, the whole of life unspooling before him in an endless cosmic thread. Cross Tom Robbins with Richard Brautigan with Evelyn Waugh, add a touch of Umberto Eco, and you have the writer Kevin Maloney, one of the last remaining holy fools willing to undergo a soul’s journey and write about it, honestly and ecstatically, with no moralistic lesson save one: the lesson is the journey, and we don’t have a lot of time. It’s worth it.” —Mila Jaroniec, Southwest Review (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"Promises a rollercoaster of laughs. The Red-Headed Pilgrim follows a middle-aged wreck whose web development job in Portland propels his existential crisis. From 'angst-ridden Beaverton to the beaches of San Diego,' our unlikely hero embarks on a strange series of misadventures." —EverOut Portland
In conversation with hosts Alex Higley and Lindsay Hunter on I'm a Writer But, Kevin Maloney, author of The Red-Headed Pilgrim talks about fictionalizing his own life, writing about sex, writing a book that was “like On the Road combined with Napoleon Dynamite.” Interview: I'm a Writer But Podcast: Kevin Maloney interview
"Tender and uproarious... Maloney writes in a casual, self-deprecating style, befitting the swapping of stories across a bar top or kitchen table. Possessing a keen eye for detail, his prose is jam-packed with memorable characters who pop off the page and can’t help but make the wrong choice, time and time again." —Sheldon Birnie, Winnipeg Free Press (Read the full review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"Even while describing some emotionally devastating things, there are funny lines in just about every paragraph. Which doesn’t seem to lessen the emotional impact when things get really bad for our mishap-prone hero, or when the miraculous unexpectedly makes an appearance... The writer has enough distance from his younger self to recognize his youthful foibles and ridiculousness, while also recalling that the things that he was clumsily searching for back then—meaning, purpose, love, art, and miracles—actually do matter, a lot more than the security and predictability most of us eventually settle for. We should probably keep room in our lives to make mistakes." —Rufus Hickok, Ordinary Times (Read the full review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"This week, host Jason Jefferies is joined by Kevin Maloney, author of The Red-Headed Pilgrim, which is published by our friends at Two Dollar Radio. Topics of conversation include the line between fact and fiction, the fear of routine in adulthood, virginity and sex, Howl, Robotussin-induced spirit journeys, Pearl Jam vs. Sufjan Stevens, wanderlust, and much more." —Jason Jefferies interviews Kevin Maloney, 'Bookin' Podcast'
'The Lives of Writers Podcast' — Podcast Interview with Michael Wheaton "Michael talks with Kevin Maloney about getting married to the same person a few times, working as a web developer for about fifteen years, looking to dead writers for a way to live, interest in Eastern philosophy and the doomed quest to jump to wisdom, writing with a true voice and sense of humor, The Red-Headed Pilgrim, learning from plotless work to write a book with a plot, the comic giving way to sadness, writing a really good middle, blending the autobiographical and the fictional, seeking the maybe impossible path to spiritual being, and more."
"[The Red-Headed Pilgrim] by the Portland, Oregon-based author, published by Two Dollar Radio, features a hero who shares the author's name and bounces around the United States from childhood through his early 40s." —Erica Thompson, Columbus Dispatch "Author to share ‘sharp wit’ of new novel"
'I'm Just Here to Not Get Fined' —T.L. States, Words & Sports Interview with Kevin Maloney: "We corresponded over Twitter DMs last summer, in July and August, so you'll catch glimpses of things that were still to come, but have now passed us by. Kevin is a deeply personal writer, and a thoughtful conversationalist. We get into a little Denis Johnson, Red Hot Chili Peppers, living in a state of awe and appreciation, and crying. And other things. Many other things."
“Kevin Maloney is always good for a laugh, a wrench, and a rollercoaster ride—in his latest novel, which Chelsea Martin calls ‘a beautiful ode to being a fucked up pathetic virgin’ (amazing) a web developer named Kevin Maloney recalls the teenage suburban psychological break/awakening that let him on a long journey to a complicated adulthood. I expect a very good trip.” —Emily Temple, LitHub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2023"
“The narrator of this novel seeks happiness and enlightenment.... The method by which he goes about finding them, though — well, that’s where things get especially interesting.” —Vol. 1 Brooklyn, "January 2023 Book Preview"
'5 Writers, 7 Questions, No Wrong Answers'— LitHub Interview with Teddy Wayne: Teddy Wayne interviews Kevin Maloney—author of The Red-Headed Pilgrim—along with Kashana Cauley, Nyani Nkrumah, Jason Roeder, and Daniel Torday for Lit Hub. Topics of discussion include influences, the complications of the term “autofiction,” alternative careers to writing, and more!
“A web developer embarks on a journey of enlightenment and indulgence to find out who he really is. A new release from the wonderful indie press Two Dollar Radio.” —Liberty Hardy, Book Riot
“The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a fantastic addition to the “midlife woes” genre... Kevin Maloney’s novel is a tragicomic misadventure about new beginnings that is in turns laugh out loud funny and painfully real.” —The Chicago Review of Books, “Must-Read Books of January 2023”
“Kevin Maloney’s humility and sense of humor are inspiring, if not contagious. It’s empowering to loudly claim that you aren’t perfect... It’s a very intimate and vulnerable novel that is told with such a heartfelt and self-deprecating way that you’ll end up relating to Kevin Maloney’s journey through adulthood.” —Benoit Lelievre, Dead End Follies (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"We’re big admirers of the work of Kevin Maloney around these parts. His novel Cult of Loretta and his short fiction are particular favorites, and he’s an engaging interviewee to boot. All of which means that we’re thrilled about his forthcoming novel The Red-Headed Pilgrim, scheduled for publication by Two Dollar Radio in January. And we’re happy to be premiering the trailer for said novel today—a short video that gives a fine sense of what to expect from Maloney’s forthcoming work": Book trailer for The Red-Headed Pilgrim, created by the author, Kevin Maloney, originally debuted by Vol. 1 Brooklyn:
"Halfway between the ranting of a beloved, inebriated uncle at the family holiday and the working diary of an emerging standup comic, The Red Headed Pilgrim is the story of Kevin Maloney, an outcast in a world of outcasts, telling us of his adventures from existentially-unnerved teenager to neurotic father. From the very beginning, starting with the book’s charming and effective prologue, Maloney plays with the novel form, not so much breaking the fourth wall as challenging its very existence." —D. W. White, 3:AM Magazine "Me, Myself, and I: Autotruth and Autofiction in The Red Headed Pilgrim"
"In The Red-Headed Pilgrim, Maloney envisions a hilarious reality in which we must give up on our dreams to care for those we love and begrudgingly find meaning along the way." —Daniel Marcantuono, Mid-American Review (Read the full review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"The Red-Headed Pilgrim illuminates the sometimes painful reality of what it means to search for meaning and beauty in this world. With quick wit and refreshing humor, Maloney has crafted a coming of age and adulthood story that exposes the gritty underside of idealization without losing all hope. This book was a wild, exuberant ride." —Madeline Hausmann, Bookpeople (Austin, TX)
"Kevin is a teen-turning-adult in the 90s, but his journey is classic 1960s/70s: a highly intelligent soul searches for truth and beauty with the aid of various drugs, a deep appreciation of nature and simplicity, openness to spontaneous travel, and strong avoidance of 9-5 jobs. Kevin carelessly becomes a father and husband, and parenthood skyrockets his tendency toward denial. Divorce eventually forces him back home to a 9-5 job. A raucous trip!" —Kay Wosewick, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)
"With a mix of humor, melancholy, and pathos, Kevin Maloney’s memorable novel The Red-Headed Pilgrim follows an office worker through his midlife crisis... Maloney’s prose is expert in its formation. The book’s sections are packed with witty references and sly digs at Kevin’s lack of self-awareness. There are scenes that are downright heartbreaking, too. Indeed, in addition to Kevin’s freewheeling adventures, the novel covers the consequences that adventuring can produce. Kevin enters into a far from ideal marriage, raises a child in that milieu, and works to manage elements of a life that can’t be put back together... fun, adventure-filled novel." —Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews
"The author maintains a sharp wit and a knack for bringing zany flare to everyday details in his protagonist’s awkward quest to build a life, and the author’s willingness to get laughs at his narrator-doppelgänger’s expense makes for a good use of the form. This funny and openhearted romp will have readers laughing and reflecting on their own misadventures and foibles." —Publishers Weekly (Read the full review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"There are pages in here where every.single.sentence is funny... While the humor is seeping through these easy-reading pages, it’s also telling the story of a guy who makes decisions based on their own fumblings of how the world works... Maloney (the character) goes through quite a lot by the end of this book, and maybe it becomes hard to breathe as an adult, harder to cope. Maybe it becomes harder to do most things, but he’s alive. So maybe there’s hope for him (and me) yet." —Joe Walters, Independent Book Review (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"What follows is a funny, sometimes sad, always openhearted tour of a man’s coming of age... Looking back at young mistakes from middle-age is a time-honored tradition. Especially for those who’ve harbored artistic or utopian dreams (or delusions, as the case may be.) Maloney doesn’t give us the wish-fulfillment ending by having Kevin quit his comfortable job and go back on the road to sound his barbaric yawp, but neither does he close the door on the possibility that some pie-in-the-sky hopes may still come true." —Dmitry Samarov, Neutral Spaces (Read the full book review of The Red-Headed Pilgrim)
"I devoured this book. What a beautiful ode to being a fucked up pathetic virgin. The Red-Headed Pilgrim is intimate and vulnerable and sexy in the most raw, uncomfortable, depressing ways. Kevin Maloney, through years of poor decisions and contradictory impulses, shows us what he seemed to always know: there is nothing more powerful than love." —Chelsea Martin, author of Tell Me I'm an Artist
"The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a revelation that achieves starry dynamo-level energy from the jump. Maloney's prose is sharp and vivid, full of trippy precision, and his story is funny, wild, painful and wise. When the road of On the Road runs into shattered middle age, this book is waiting for you." —Sam Lipsyte, author of Hark and The Ask
"A very funny and rollicking novel about one young man's often ill-fated quest for authenticity, originality, and beauty in modern times. Part of a generation raised in relative privilege by tv and breakfast cereal, he seeks more than the cog in the machine 9-5 life expected of him in search of unique experience, be it through farming, retail, travel, sex, drugs, rock and roll, all the way to marriage and fatherhood, often falling flat on his face. I devoured this book in one evening and enjoyed his misadventures thoroughly." —Seth Tucker, Carmichael's Bookstore (Louisville, KY)
"The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a fascinating novel about what can happen when you pursue beauty above all else. Money, reality, and corporate jobs are the last thing on this narrator's mind—instead, he'll go wherever love takes him. Kevin Maloney's writing will break your heart in the best way, reminding us how difficult life can be when we follow the path towards meaning, understanding, and belonging." —Chelsea Hodson, author of Tonight I'm Someone Else
"The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a funny, raw, eccentric novel that made me laugh out loud frequently as I tore through its pages. What I appreciated most about this bittersweet, darkly comic story, though, is how it is tinged so beautifully with hope in the end." —Jami Attenberg, bestselling author of The Middlesteins and All Grown Up
"Just as life does over and over again to its hero, Kevin Maloney's The Red-Headed Pilgrim knocked me down, picked me up, tickled my ribs, knocked me down again, kicked sand in my face, made my bed in the dirt, and then rubbed my back. It's John Williams by way of Sam Lipsyte, and it's not to be missed." —Greg Kornbluh, Downbound Books (Cincinnati, OH)
"Unfailingly affable, often hilarious, sometimes harrowing, The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a künstlerroman—a novel detailing a young person's development into an artist—that tells the tale of one tall, white, Boho-American male's staggering path to creative fulfillment. With many detours through the swamps of sex, drugs, farm work, and fatherhood along the way, this novel is filled with deceptively hard-won wisdom, all wrapped in a brightly-colored bow." —Jon Raymond, author of Freebird
“Who doesn’t love a good disaster story, told with humor and good grace? I really do recommend this book, The Red-Headed Pilgrim, by Kevin Maloney. The main character has hints of those old-school hapless heroes from the pages of Salinger or Brautigan, with a dash of modern day love-able losers like, say, Napoleon Dynamite. It’s a drug and sex fueled Odyssey, with way less violence and death, and hardly any monsters, come to think of it. But I believe you’ll enjoy it all the same.” —Arthur Bradford, author of Turtleface and Beyond
“Kevin Maloney has lovingly shoved the great American novel into a tank of LSD and it’s crawled out with triumphant stars in its eyes. The Red-Headed Pilgrim is a beautifully melted comic work with a profound and eternal heart.” —Bud Smith, author of Teenager
"I'm not a grudge guy, but I have one long-standing gripe and it's with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, due to them stiffing me and my pal, Pizza Place, on a tip for a $600 order at the falafel shop in Omaha. Thing is, Kevin Maloney loves them. Namedrops them multiple times in this book. But it's such a goddamn gem of a novel that I can't help but get swept up in the story of Kevin Maloney: poet, Buddhist, 'shroom-tripper, aloof charmer. Makes me want to forgive all past trespasses. Hell, I might even cue up a RHCP song. That one about California." —Gene Kwak, author of Go Home, Ricky!
Praise for Kevin Maloney:
"Devastatingly gorgeous and horrifying. Maloney writes lush, gritty, and compact vignettes that crescendo through bizarrely particular and hectic circumstances." —Nathan Scott McNamara, Electric Literature, on Cult of Loretta
"There are novels of relationships gone sour, and then there’s Kevin Maloney’s Cult of Loretta, which finds its obsessive narrator locked in a deeply unhealthy, borderline-apocalyptic fixation with a woman who recurs throughout his life. It’s at once rooted in the quotidian and deeply hallucinatory, a combination that pays off repeatedly." —Tobias Carroll, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, on Cult of Loretta
"This is one funny—and sometimes disturbing—short novel. Cult of Loretta combines a likable sad-sack narrative with early '90s Portland grunge-drug culture and the pain of romantic hearts that can't be tamed or understood." —Kevin Sampsell, Powell's Books Blog, on Cult of Loretta
BOOK CLUB & READER GUIDE: Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The epigraph for the novel is a quote from Carl Jung in which he reflects on John Bunyan’s famous 17th century allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, and the title, The Red-Headed Pilgrim, alludes to a pilgrimage as well. What comes to mind for you with the idea of a “pilgrim”? How do the title and the epigraph set a fitting tone for this story?
2. This book presents itself as a novel, but the main character shares a name and biographical details with the author. How did this impact your experience of the text? Did you read it as an autobiographical account? How would you have experienced this novel if the author and narrator’s names were different? Discuss whether you believe it matters what genre (novel, memoir, autofiction...) a book is labeled as belonging to.
3. In the Prologue, the narrator has an existential crisis in an office park in the suburbs. How does this set the stage for what follows? Do you relate to the protagonist’s fear of complacency?
4. Early in the novel, Kevin’s spiritual journey begins when his psychologist gives him a copy of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. What role do books play in The Red-Headed Pilgrim? To what extent is Kevin’s education institutional vs. self-directed?
5. In high school, teenage Kevin starts a club called “The Inevitable Death Society.” How does the fear of death inform Kevin’s journey? Does Kevin have a realistic or idealized understanding of mortality?
6. In The Red-Headed Pilgrim, Kevin’s parents send him to an expensive private university. Later, they fund his whimsical backpacker vacation to Europe. Does the protagonist seem aware of his privilege? How does his privilege inform his experiences in adulthood as an employee and father? How do we reconcile his hardships in the context of his privilege?
7. In mythology and contemporary narrative, the hero’s journey is a common format involving a hero who has adventures, overcomes obstacles, and returns home victorious and transformed. How does this text engage or reject the traditions of the hero’s journey? How do external forces, such as capital-ism and gender roles, affect the protagonist’s progress?
8. Why the focus on the narrator’s hair color? Is there something distinctive about the red-headed identity we can learn from this story? In discussing his appearance, the writer does not focus on his race, height, or other physical attributes much or at all. Why is this story specifically focused on life as a ginger?
9. In Chapter 9, Kevin takes up residence at a Wild West-themed roadside attraction called Frontier Village. Later, we find him wearing a cowboy hat, fantasizing about an imagined past working as a ranch hand. What role do the ideas and imagery of the American West play in the novel? In what ways does the novel utilize or subvert the tropes of early American lore?
10. Role models for our protagonist tend to be male thinkers and artists, yet female figures act as teachers throughout this story and propel the plot forward. Ranging from mother figures to lovers and a daughter, among others, how do we see the role of women impacting this story? What conclusions can we draw, if any, about the competing influences of masculine and feminine sensibilities upon the protagonist’s identity?
11. The majority of the novel takes place in a world before smartphones and social media. How would Kevin’s journey be different if it took place today?
12. Were there specific images in the novel that you found memorable, striking, evocative, or surprising? How was Maloney able to achieve this? What techniques of craft does the author employ to create a visually compelling world?
13. Many passages of the novel focus on sexual desire, anxiety, frustration, and fulfillment. At times, Maloney’s sexual preoccupations cloud his judgment but also bring him the gift of Zoë. How does sexuality function within the novel as a whole? Does Maloney’s sexual journey serve as a metaphor for the many obstacles on his path from suffering toward enlightenment? Is his sexual awakening a helpful tool in his journey?
14. In Part III, Kevin’s journey comes to an abrupt halt when he gets his girlfriend pregnant. In what ways is Kevin the Young Seeker still present in Kevin the Parent? In what ways does he successfully make the transition to parent and in what ways does he fail?
15. The Red-Headed Pilgrim is hyper-focused on the protagonist’s journey and how he sees himself. What role does point-of-view play in the novel? How would the novel be different if it were told from Wendy’s perspective? Zoë’s?
16. Think of some famous fathers in movies, TV, and novels. How does the protagonist resemble these characters? How is he different? Is the novel’s depiction of Kevin as a single father sympathetic? Can we draw any conclusions about the differing struggles faced by mothers and fathers?
17. Despite the chaos of her home life, Zoë emerges as a precocious, intelligent child. What role does Zoë play in her family? Who do we imagine Zoë will become in adulthood?
18. This first-person narration vacillates between chronological account and backward glance. Do these shifts in time serve the narrator’s attempt to reckon with his past? Does this selective memory serve another function? How is your understanding of the story and its themes enhanced by shifts between past and present?
19. What role do drugs and alcohol play in the novel? Are they a help or hindrance on Kevin’s journey to adulthood? How does the protagonist’s own view of their use change over time?
20. The tone of the novel is buoyantly humorous and playful, making use of the narrator’s delusions, his memorable foils, and the absurd to keep us laughing. Yet key interludes offer wistful reflection and melancholy. Discuss how the tension between these modes serves the novel and its themes. Do tonal shifts correlate with the treatment of time? What can we learn from charting our narrator’s reliance upon humor and the moments when he abandons it?
Kevin Maloney is the author of Cult of Loretta and the forthcoming story collection Horse Girl Fever. At times a TJ Maxx associate, grocery clerk, outdoor school instructor, organic farmer, electrician, high school English teacher, and teddy bear salesman, he currently works as a web developer and writer. His short stories have appeared in Hobart, Barrelhouse, Green Mountains Review, and a number of other journals and anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife Aubrey.
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