More than a half-century ago, Jimmy Driftwood wrote a song about a man and his horse, “Tennessee Stud,” that told the story of a man’s lost love, travels and adventures with the horse, and eventual happy ending with his sweetheart.

Inspired by the song, Thomas Fox Averill, a professor at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., made some travels of his own, to the locations in the song: Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Mexico. He took the song and filled in the gaps, rounded out the characters and created a thoroughly enjoyable novel, one that reflects the American spirit of independence and fresh starts, as well as the optimism and belief in the future that may yet lurk beneath today’s cynicism.

The song, and the novel, start out in Tennessee “along about eighteen and twenty-five.” Framed for a murder he didn’t commit by the disapproving family of his sweetheart, Robert Johnson flees on The Stud, the truest, fastest and most valiant horse in the New World, to hear Johnson tell it. He flees his family and his land, and the cabin he built with his own hands.

Aimless, Johnson heads west, with a bounty hunter in pursuit. He encounters a variety of characters along the way, some friendly, some not, some who offer advice like: “Whatever you’re running from, remember that’s what you’ll end up running toward.”

Those words ring true for Johnson in more ways than one, as he becomes an outlaw and a horse thief and even a killer despite having fled false charges of being the very same. And as he rides farther away from his Jo, she is all he can think about and what eventually brings him back.

Johnson’s story, while archetypal in several ways, seems fresh and never turns into cliche. Averill paces Johnson’s long journey well, and his prose is lively and evocative.

“Rode” is the classic story of America, told with depth and emotion.