Publishers Weekly recently came out with one of those “10 best” lists, this one of road books. I had some quibbles with the list, probably because I’d only read two of the books on it – The Road and Fay, and where the heck was Anywhere But Here?
Still, the list resonated, mainly because I’ve just finished two excellent road books, one fiction, one nonfiction.
The novel, Edward Adrift, is Billings, Mont., writer Craig Lancaster’s sequel to his 600 Hours of Edward, whose protagonist is a young man with Asperger’s and obsessive-compulsive disorder. While Lancaster doesn’t sugar-coat the difficulties of interacting with someone like Edward Stanton, he’s created a character for whom readers can’t help but root, even when a happy ending seems unlikely. Edward Adrift features an unhappy beginning, with Edward losing his job some months after his best, and nearly only, friends leave town. He sets out from Billings to visit them in Idaho and ends up in Eastern Colorado. It’s the journey, dammit, and as the cliche implies, it’s an internal journey as well.
In The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83, Nebraska native Stew Magnuson’s journey encompasses both those aspects, and has a strong historical component as well. The book, the first in a trilogy, traces the U.S. Highway 83 – one of the oldest and longest roads in the country, stretching from the Canadian to the Mexican border – through the Dakotas.
Both books took me through places I hold dear, the stretches of prairie that so often produce yawns in travelers. But there’s no yawning in either of these books. Both Magnuson and Lancaster write with knowledge and affection about the landscape. And both authors people their work with compelling characters whose stories demand that you keep turning the page.
I’ve just finished (I hope) the manuscript for Wyoming, the third book in my Lola Wicks series. I did my road-tripping for that book last summer. Now I’ve started Arizona, and let me tell you, it’s a struggle to sit in my chair and type when what I really want to do is get behind the wheel and head for the Four Corners, for the redrock country where Lola’s latest adventures take place. I hope, when it’s finished, Arizona will transport a reader as skillfully as Lancaster’s and Magnuson’s works. And maybe, in the meantime, Publishers Weekly will revise its list.