Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Girl in the Road

Title:  The Girl in the Road
Author:  Monica Byrne
Publication Information:  Crown. 2014. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0804138842 / 978-0804138840

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "I think there are more things in heaven and earth than can be dreamt of in our philosophy."

Where to even begin talking about this book except to say that this is not the book for me. Many reasons, but one stands out. A scene in this book describes an act of pedophilia. That, in and of itself, is not a reason to dislike the book. Many books have taken on this issue. What makes this scene so unbearable for me is that it is not presented as a horrific crime against a child. The scene is described and then also referenced in a memory, and neither clearly labels it as the terrible terrible obscenity that pedophilia is. I simply cannot get past that.

Now, the rest of the book. The premise of the book holds promise. It is a futuristic mythical story of the journeys of two women and a bridge across the Arabian Sea, reaching from India to Ethiopia.

The Trails is a energy harvesting bridge that was designed to span the Arabian Sea. It is illegal to be on the bridge; yet, many people attempt to become "walkers" and explore the Trail or escape their life on land. For those on land, the Trail has taken on a life and existence of its own - with laws and legends surrounding its existence. No one has ever returned from venturing on to the Trail.

Meena is a young woman seemingly all alone. She was raised by her grandparents in India, and all she knows of her parents is that they died in Ethiopia. She feels as if she is being pursued and decides to escape India. She becomes a "walker" on the Trail. Her desire to escape become mixed with a desire to get to Ethiopia and search out the person responsible for her parent's death.

Mariama is a young girl attempting to escape trouble in her African home. She is taken in by a caravan bound for Ethiopia. Her story happens about 40 years before Meena's.

Along their journeys, both encounter difficulties and meet many different people. Eventually, the two stories collide.

The book describes Meena's journey and Mariama's journey concurrently, in alternating chapters. The different time periods and the relationships are not made clear. I found myself flipping back and forth to try and remember the point at which what I was reading at the moment had been referenced before. I almost feel like I needed an index of characters and cultural terms to help clarify.

The book is also overwhelming because it attempts to address so many different issues - gender identify, sexual preferences, technology and environment, cultural upheaval, political statements, to name a few. It feels like the book goes from issue to issue to issue, without really delving into any one.

The book for me is also hard to enjoy because neither Meena or Mariama are really likable or really developed as characters. I am still unclear as to what events triggered each to venture on this journey. The book does not present their back story or the events that led them to that point. Without any background, it's difficult to understand their motivations or actions. Many of their actions themselves- including self-mutilation described as "a self-perpetuating recreational activity" - are questionable in and of themselves and even more so without the context of the characters' background to suggest a reason.

It seems that this books sets out to make a philosophical point, but it tries too hard and gets lost in the process. The book is certainly memorable, but, unfortunately, for me, not in a pleasant way.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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