While writing about Henry Fonda a few years ago, I learned about a movie project he desired to make late in his life, but never did – an adaptation of a novel called The Journey of Simon McKeever, written by Albert Maltz and published in 1949. I’d never heard of the book. But I got a copy, and read it. It haunted me for days, and I've wanted ever since to tell people about it.
Simon McKeever is seventy-three and lives meagerly in a Sacramento nursing home; his wife and child, both killed in an explosion, are long dead. Born in Ireland and raised in America, he has labored all his life, and now suffers from crippling arthritis. Yet he resolves to hitchhike, by himself, 400 miles of highway to find the doctor someone says will cure him. Simon is a sober, sensible man who accepts pain and even death, but not uselessness; he’s also a man of great complexity and sensitivity who is plagued by Kafkaesque nightmares in which he finds himself to be “a cockroach after all; not a man, a bug.” But above all, Simon is profoundly, rebelliously alive.