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RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative: 05/30/16

RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative by Kris Lackey

RoadFrames: The American Highway Narrative by Kris Lackey is a collection of essays that examine the development of the American road narrative. Though a slim book, it's densely packed with numerous literary and autobiographical references. For anyone new the road genre, I recommend starting with bibliography and reading this book after having tackled a sizable portion of the sources.

Lackey's thesis is that the dominant road narrative (the one told by white middle class men) springs from the Transcontentalism of Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Remarkably this can be seen played out literally in John Green's Paper Towns. He does acquiesce that not all road trip stories are written by fans of Whitman and the other truth about the genre is that there is no one true heritage nor one true set of rules.

The Black road narrative is a very different one. Here is a journey of uncertainty, where the driver is spectacle, instead of the towns he visits. This is a journey taken at night, with care. In the early days, that meant the Travelguide. Nowadays it would probably be blogs or cellphone apps.

And then at the margins of the road narrative (and in this book, too) are the women. Women aren't as represented in the big discussion of the genre. The books do exist and a couple are mentioned in RoadFrames but not with the same depth of the male authors.

Some of the earliest works cited in the book, though, are cited incorrectly. I realize this book was researched, edited, and published before the days of Google Books, but it's still frustrating when trying to build a "to be read" list. When doing that yourself, double check the information against Google Books or GoodReads.

Despite the omissions and the errata, it's still a solid resource for anyone interested in the literary and sociological history of the American road narrative.

Four stars

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