Maps With Feminine Geography

Internal and external journeys in 'A Road of Her Own' reflect the movement in women's lives.

Adventurous travel may initiate a trek inward, but in A Road of Her Own, each contributor's road trip is a metaphor in search of an interior home along the way.

A Road of Her Own is a collection of essays that illuminates quiet revelations. Intriguing titles evoke contemplation: "Detours," "Nothin' Left to Lose," "Rain in the Desert," and "Coming Home."

For some, solitude or staying home can initiate a journey inward, but does travel open you more to transformational roads ahead? In A Road of Her Own, you only get a glimpse of the whole story. Indeed, most are written about earlier times in the authors' lives. The essays develop into a more complicated road map--meandering through women's lives--until the inevitable question of mortality arises. Sometimes, the authors reflect on the desire to dive into life more fully, while learning to let go. Some lapse between past and present, then merge in retrospection.

For Jane Thomas, "driving was dreamtime, a chance to catch up with my selves." For others, a solo journey brings back childhood. When Peggy Shumaker takes off from Arizona for a one-year job in Alaska, she revisits her connection to the desert, paying closer attention as she says goodbye.

"Detours," by Brenda Peterson, takes a different road--it's about her mother's road trip with her childhood best friend when they're both in their 70s. A poignant moment emerges when her mother yearns to write, after her long detour into the responsibilities of family life. If her mother's road map had been different, would the author have become a writer?

After her husband's death, Marlene Blessing hits the road with her friend Constance. Just a few years before, they shared a trip to Hawaii, with a resolve to determine the course of their lives--with or without men. That trip brought about a professional collaboration that would last many years. This road trip is "really an exhalation after holding my breath for so long." It is about the enduring place of friendship--that carries along with it memory--along the rocky road of life.

A woman driving alone does not enjoy Thelma and Louise-type companionship, and when she experiences fear, she has to deal with it alone. Linda Hasselstrom recalls worry about a man who might be stalking her in a Nebraska motel in 1976. Sixteen years later, when she totals her Bronco in a rollover on black ice, a friendly tow-truck driver reminds her of life's uncertainties: "You were ready for anything, weren't you? Except rolling your car."

In "Clearwater," Kim Barnes invites the reader more fully inside. The Clearwater River she lives near is a road revisited. With her family or alone, fishing or walking beside it, she feels childhood delight and a sense of continuance. Leaving the river, she feels less sure of her place in the world. The river mirrors the contradictions in her own life--"the calm surface, the seeming freedom." The river takes on a historical bent; how it rises and falls reminds her of environmental change. It even questions how humans fail love--refusing its pull and sway. The author ruminates: Perhaps in her life journey, she has risked too much for the river.

How do women's lives fit into the enormity of the West? Is it the endless topography that calls to a sense of freedom, to enormous possibilities? Instead of following the yellow brick road, or anybody else's road, A Road of Her Own celebrates all journeys.

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