Novel Destinations: Looking for America

Road trips are part of the American myth. They are also a common trope in American literature, and a variety of Joseph Campbell's hero's journey. In this post, I'm going to cover some novels about road trips and what they say about America. All have well-drawn characters that will suck you in.

Leah Franqui's debut, America for Beginners, is a heartwarming tale of three lonely people headed from New York to Los Angeles. Satya is supposed to be guiding Pival, a recent widow from Kolkata, through the United States with Rebecca along as chaperone. All three have secrets and their own reasons for going on this trip. Franqui has a good ear for dialogue, especially the lyrical nature of English as spoken by native Bengali speakers, in this tale of otherness, even in one's own country.

Mary is a beauty and a force of nature in Sarah Healy's The Sisters Chase. As in America for Beginners, there are secrets aplenty, which Mary and her much younger sister Hannah cannot ultimately outrun. Mary is the voice of this story, but those who like unreliable narrators will have a grand time as the sisters ramble around the country after their mother's death. Sweeping both in chronological and geographic scope, the real strength of this novel is in the meticulously drawn relationship between Mary and Hannah.

Tom returns to Dublin from Sarajevo a traumatized shadow of his former self in Dan Sheehan's Restless Souls. His two friends, who have seen their own share of trouble, decide to accompany him to a PTSD clinic in California. What follows is a story of coming to terms with loss and grief shot through with raucous humor. Told in alternating voices, one gets a feeling of the significance of events early in the story as the book progresses.

Aiden and Thad are no strangers to trouble in David Joy's The Weight of This World, but they get a whole lot more of it when they discover a windfall after their drug dealer's death. Aiden wants to escape their tiny community, but Thad is bonded to his mother, who has demons of her own. Not for the faint of heart, Joy's book is full of descriptions of the North Carolina hills and the people who populate them, and for whom he has an obvious affection.

Of course, what is a discussion of on-the-road books without On the Road? Jack Kerouac penned this seminal work of road tripping by drawing heavily on his own life. Traversing the country in just about every conveyance imaginable, with conversations that last days, Sal Paradise and his friends epitomize the restlessness and lack of direction of their generation.

Have more books about traveling highways and byways? Tell us about them in the comments.

We welcome your respectful and on-topic comments and questions in this limited public forum. To find out more, please see Appropriate Use When Posting Content. Community-contributed content represents the views of the user, not those of Chicago Public Library