Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Rhythm of the Road

The Rhythm of the Road by Albyn Leah Hall

Albyn Leah Hall's American debut is the story of one young woman and her search for self.

Josephine Pickering grew up on the roads of England. Raised by her father Bobby, a commercial trucker who instilled in her a love of the road and of country music, she always felt more at home in the cab of their Scania than in their small London apartment.

Despite the fact that he suffers from severe depression, Bobby is a loving father and Jo's best friend. When Bobby takes his life during her seventeenth year, Jo is lost at sea. With nowhere else to turn, she becomes obsessed with Cosima Stewart, a successful alternative country singer whom she and Bobby first met as a hitchhiker five years earlier. Her life spiraling out of control, Jo travels to America on a self-destructive quest.

While Jo does in the end find redemption, it is a long path that we, as readers, must travel with her. It is only when Jo comes to terms with her own true self that she can live a life out of the shadow of Cosima and her seemingly charmed life.

Much of what Hall explores in The Rhythm of the Road can be summed up by this one conversation between Bobby and Jo, age 12:
"Jo," he said, "did you ever wonder if your life could be stolen, the way a wallet could? Did you ever wake up and think, 'Someone might have nicked my life, and now they are walking around living it'?"
"Whose life would you have, then?"
"A borrowed one."
"But if your life was borrowed, who would have your real life?"
"There might be no real life. The real Bobby could be no Bobby, just a grain in a handful of sand at the bottom of the sea."
"If you weren't really you, would I still be really me?"
"You'll always be you." (19-20)
Hall's characters are well-wrought. The novel's plot, however, does at times seem to play second fiddle to the mood Hall is trying (very successfully) to set. The first half of the novel, which jumps between Bobby and Jo during her early teens and flashbacks of Bobby tumultuous relationship with Jo's mother, is undoubtably stronger than its second.

On a side note: The Rhythm of the Road seems to be informed by Hall's earlier work. In fact, Deliria, Hall's first novel, sounds very much like the story of Jo's mom and her time in England.

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