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Hearts: 05/27/21


Hearts by Hilma Wolitzer is a road trip novel from 1980. It was contemporary fiction when it was first published and now it reads like a time capsule.

Linda and Robin Reismann are stepmother and stepdaughter. Linda was married for a few weeks and now she's a widow and responsible for a teenager who isn't much younger than she is. They set out on a cross country drive from New Jersey to California to start a new life.

In 2015 when I first re-started my road narrative project, I added Hearts to my list of books to read. Most scholarly work on American road narratives, be they novels, memoirs, or films, is focused on a very narrow range of author/experience. The white male traveler — the white male author — is written about as if this type of story is the only one that exists. Rarely, women's stories are included — usually in opposition to the male experience to demonstrate how dangerous the road is for a woman without a man.

Hearts by academia's logic shouldn't exist. Linda and Robin shouldn't safely make it across the country. One or both of them should have expected to face a "fate worth than death." While their journey isn't a smooth ride, save for one scene at an abortion clinic, the ride is uneventful.

Obviously Linda and Robin's journey can be plotted on the road narrative spectrum. They are a traveling family (33) even if they don't feel like one at the beginning. Their destination is San Francisco — or more precisely, the nearly completed I80 highway. The bit along the western edge of Salt Lake City, UT wasn't complete until 1986. Regardless, the destination can be inferred as the city (00). The route save for a few minor exceptions is the interstate (00). Thus Hearts is the tale of a new family traveling to the city via the interstate.

Four stars

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