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Mosquitoland: 06/15/17

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland by David Arnold is about Mim Malone trying to get home to her mother as she's running away from her new, unwanted home with her father and stepmother in Mississippi. As her funds and options are limited, she sets off by bus, only to find her every move thwarted.

As Cynthia Golomb Dettelbach notes from In the Driver's Seat (1976), "...a bus is a poor person's car, shared with other poor persons, other odors, other noises, other destinations to strangers who may be annoying or offensive..." (p. 78). For Mim, the notion of "other destinations" becomes a reality when her journey home is derailed by the over turning of the bus. When her seatmate, an elderly woman dies in the accident, Mim takes it upon herself finish the woman's journey before completing her own.

Mim's journey is one built up of the tropes seen in the "driving while—" (female, POC, poor, etc), in opposition to "driving while white, male, rich." As the book is written by a man, I need to ask if he has internalized these opposing tropes and has decided that Mim's peril is certain from the beginning because of her gender (even discounting her family history of mental illness). Does a single, poor, runaway teenage girl doom a bus?

Mim is also traveling from the rural, to the urban — backwards of the typically male road trip. The rural route is a difficult one, one that is hard to escape. Her funds are limited. Her options are limited, especially because she is a minor and a runaway.

Mim also faces sexual assault, as does another woman on a similar "poor person's" road trip. Of course he is another member of the bus trip. Let's say he does have a history of selecting teens to assault on the bus route from Mississippi to Ohio — would he still be tempted after it overturns? After he's injured? And why would he continue to pursue Mim after she repeatedly, blatantly rejects him. She's not demure. She's not polite. She's not quiet about it.

Again, I can only think that it's part of the author's internalized expectations of what happens to unchaperoned girls. It's part of the gritty realism trope that has gone dark to ridiculous proportions in recent years.

In going back to think about Mosquitoland in the context of the road narrative project, I'm seeing holes I didn't see when I first experienced it. On it's first read, the story felt fresh, different, and compelling. It kept me turning the pages.

It, is, however, a road narrative from an obviously male perspective, despite the female protagonist. Had Mim been a young teenage male, this would have been a very different story. Had it been written from a male perspective, I suspect someone like Mim would have been there — someone to be protected, rescued, and perhaps romanced. In this regard, Mosquitoland is not much different from On the Trail to Sunset and other similar early road trip books.

Three stars

Comments (2)

Comment #1: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 18:42:29


What you said about the author writing Mim's experiences based only on his expectations of what happens to unchaperoned girls made me think of another book. In Wild by Cheryl Strayed, she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail completely by herself. Everyone she meets is always so surprised that she's safe, even though she's alone. And she says something about how everyone's expectations are different from reality. For which she is grateful, I'm sure. (I'm not saying that things don't happen to unchaperoned women, I'm just saying that expectations can definitely color how we see a story or situation.)

Comment #2: Friday, June 23, 2017 at 20:27:00


I've heard of Wild but I haven't read it. From my own experiences traveling I've never had any trouble beyond misplacing things or being pick-pocketed for petty cash. Most of the dangers have been from fatigue — from driving too long, driving too far, driving too late. From the road narratives I've read written by women, their stories for the most part are very similar to the ones written by men — except for sometimes encountering a man — usually as a father figure — who thinks it's unsafe for them to be traveling alone. The one exception is Baby Driver by Jan Keroauc where she describes being groped after hitchhiking, and having to jump out of the car.

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