Road Novels

What is it about the road that inspires such great literature?

When I was 19 or 20, I envisioned a set of interlocked short stories based around a young man’s journey from Toronto to New Orleans. With only a notebook, he’d crossed the continent in my mind easily a dozen times, a dozen different ways. I’ve still got the outline somewhere, and about half the stories written. I lost the thread—I’ve got the middle, but the beginning and end of it, I could never figure, so I sort of… let it go.

But I’m knee-deep in “The Savage Detectives” by Roberto Bolano, and last year, I read “On The Road” by Kerouac for the first time. They’re firing me up to pull that manuscript out and see if there’s any life left in it.

There’s a sort of beat zen to books like those: the pace and structure mimics the journey undertaken within the pages. “Savage Detectives” reads like a case file–the second section is interviews and brief accounts, little snapshots and corners of the characters’ lives and their movements. You have to put the plot together for yourself. “On the Road” is more like a long diary entry comprised entirely of rambling, looping lines of poetry. There’s so many different ways to conceptualize the metaphysical, internal journey of a character within a physical movement of space. It’s almost too easy, really, which is what tells me it’s gonna be just as easy to do a bad job of it.

I’m feeling restless and ready for a real journey. I’ve put an obscene amount of kilometers on the PT Cruiser since last January, driving random places. I’ve been up north, down south, east, west, downtown, uptown. One afternoon, I was even accidentally in downtown Oshawa. Literally. “How the hell did I get here?”

But none of those trips were more than I could do on my own with something good on the radio in an afternoon. It’s time to go somewhere further. 2010 was a year of endings. 2011’s already been a year of beginnings. I’m looking forward to seeing where it’ll take me.


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