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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (April 3)
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Traveling Light: 04/17/17

Traveling Light by Lynne Branard

As I am expecting to move this year — though where to or when hasn't been established, I am keeping my purchases of books primarily to ebooks. The exceptions to that rule have been books where I already own the others in a series (with the intent of donating the entire set when it's complete and I've read them all), or for graphic novels as they frankly are easier and more fun to read in print form.

Twice now in about ten days' time, I've broken that no hard copies rule, and both of them have been for road trip books. The first of those, is Traveling Light by Lynne Branard. I saw it on display while at a book store to get a PSAT prep book for my son.

What caught my attention? First, there's a VW bug (though the wrong make and color per the book) parked in an obviously New Mexican landscape. It has a title that immediately implies a road trip, and one that isn't thoroughly planned out (such as the memoir, Across the Continent by the Lincoln Highway. The New Mexico landscape implies a destination that's not the glamor of California, meaning there is some other goal in mind besides fame and fortune.

The big selling point for me, though, was that it is written by a woman with a woman protagonist, but the plot is something that one would see with if both were male. Meaning, the book wouldn't be falling into the "consequences for women" tropes. It's not that those tropes aren't valid, but it's also good to see books that push boundaries within the genre.

In terms of plot, Traveling Light is very similar to Driving Mr. Albert a memoir by Michael Paterniti about driving with Albert Einstein's preserved brain across the country. Here, it's not a brain in a jar, it's an urn containing the ashes of one Roger Hart, whom Alissa "Al" Wells has won in a bid for an unclaimed storage unit. Along with the urn, there's a business card for a mortuary in Grants, New Mexico — nearly two thousand miles west of North Carolina.

It's the first time in thirty years that Al has felt compelled to do anything. She feels like her life has been scripted since the death of her mother when she was five. She works for her father at the newspaper because it's what he wants. Now she has a new calling — returning Roger to his proper resting place, and it has to be done in person. Thus, Al and Casserole (her three legged dog) hop into her cherry red, 1998 VW and head west with Roger).

Roger from his very introduction is treated as a character — a traveling companion — even though he never speaks. This book doesn't indulge in magical realism or in flash backs. We never really get to hear Roger's side of things — just what Al and others imagine his reactions to be. Had it only been the threesome of Al, Cass, and Roger, Traveling Light would have been a good book.

But there is more — more tropes like you'd see in a male centric road trip. Al picks up a hitchhiker (a waitress named Blossom). She is very much like the character picked up in Road Trip by Gary and Jim Paulsen. Later, then, there's Blossom's ex-boyfriend, Dillon along for the ride. Again pretty standard, except that the driver in the this story is a mature woman and at no point is she every in danger during her trip. Branard further lampoons the masculine road trip tropes by having Al consistently misgendered as male by people who are following along on her journey through social media or via phone messages sent by her traveling companions.

Interestingly, Traveling Light falls mostly into the "There and Back Again" sub-genre. Al's journey is never going to be one-way. The road trip even ends before the novel does, with Al back at home in Clayton — to find herself changed and her friends and family different too in her absence. Like Bilbo in The Hobbit, Al's return trip bears little resemblance to the journey out to return Roger's ashes. While she leaves with companions and a trusty vehicle, she choses to return home as a hitchhiker (something either unheard of or exceptionally dangerous for most female protagonists). When asked about the trip home, she describes it as the most boring and sleepless forty-eight hours she's ever experienced.

Traveling Light along with Just Us Women by Jeannette Franklin Caines, shows that there is room for women in the fictional road narrative space, one where adventures can be had without a certainty of consequences.

Five stars

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Monday, April 17, 2017 at 21:39:21

Elizabeth @ Silver's Reviews

Great review.

It was a good book.

Saw your return comment from the other post.

Comment #2: Monday, April 17, 2017 at 18:42:39


Thanks! It was the perfect book for my spring break trip.

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