Opening lines of the book:
“There’s rain and there’s rain. Maybe there’s a difference at the edge of a continent.”
Why I read it:
I was born in 1970, a year before Boruch went on the road trip she chronicles in The Glimpse Traveler. I was curious to get my own glimpse into the American counterculture of the 70s.
What it’s about:
It’s a Thursday, almost spring, in 1971, when 20-year-old University of Illinois student Marianne Boruch meets Frances, a 21-year-old widow, who’s about to embark on a hitchhiking trip to California. Frances casually invites Boruch to tag along. The Glimpse Traveler recounts that memorable road trip.
I always find it hard to review books I love, and The Glimpse Traveler is one of my favourites this year. What Marianne Boruch has done in this memoir is nothing short of extraordinary: nearly 40 years after the fact, she has managed to recreate a road trip—and a time period—so wholly that I felt like I was there, in the car (or van), speeding west and drinking in the sights with Boruch’s younger self. It helps that Boruch is a bit of an observer on this trip, which is driven by Frances’ search for answers; the reader can easily identify with her.
Although the title of the book refers to glimpses, there’s nothing choppy about this memoir—in fact I’m astonished that Boruch could remember so much of this road trip so many years later. The memoir’s short chapters drew me in, and Boruch’s occasional tangents only added to the magic of her story. As Boruch says, “Certain moments open and you fall right in, sucked back to some previous elsewhere” (p. 136). This is what she succeeds in doing in this memoir: taking the reader back with her to a moment in her personal history—it’s hard to believe this road trip lasted only nine days—while at the same time giving us a vivid glimpse into a pivotal time in American history.
On a side note, I was absurdly pleased that this book connected me to another of my recent reads, Fire Monks by Colleen Morton Busch (read my review), by mentioning the wildfires that devastated California in 2008. (Boruch and Frances visited Big Sur and stayed with painter Emil White, whose house was miraculously spared from the flames years later.)
What didn’t work:
There was nothing in The Glimpse Traveler that didn’t work: Boruch’s narrative is pitch-perfect throughout this spellbinding tale.
“Outside it would gradually turn to wheat and grazing land, to full-blown prairie, not simply land wrenched by sweat and axe from its woods. Because hadn’t it always been like this, endless and pretty much treeless? I knew those fields would eventually give way, rolling on and out to mountains I’d heard of, to this thing, the sea, only a word to someone of my land-locked childhood but the dazed, bluest eye of it, multiplied way past eight zillion times.
“That something sharp and tangled caught in me: what to call it exactly? We kept going, into day two’s long afternoon. Forgive me: I’m cutting ahead to that place for a moment, to us waiting for ride number whatever-it-was, dropped there a good long time by this time, midway through Nebraska. Was it the stillness of old wheat cut down to its jagged quick or that distant line of maple and ash? Was it the darkening sense of all those truly hard crossings and betrayals a century before? Our own waiting—not exactly legendary, its little half-teaspoon of not-quite-misery, three hours now, our hope for the flash of a car, that someone going in the right direction was generous. But it did something, to time.” (pp. 16-17)
I highly recommend this thoughtful memoir set in a turbulent period of American history.
Thank you to Indiana University Press for sending me this book to review.
Other review: Sophisticated Dorkiness
You can also read reviews on the Indiana University Press site.
Author interview: Indiana University Press blog
Excerpt of the book: The Glimpse Traveler
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