On the road again: Sara Taylor on remaking the US road novel

the-lauras

The year I was born, my grandparents moved to Nova Scotia. The year my younger sister was born they moved to Florida. I’ve been assured that none of these events are related.

We lived in Virginia, halfway between the two. Once a year or so my parents would load my brother and sister and I into the car and make the 16-hour drive to go and visit. The trip always began at bedtime, with us in our pyjamas, cocooned in blankets and pillows, Christian rock playing softly on the radio. We slept as they drove through the night, and when we woke as the sun came up we’d be passing through an unfamiliar city. Breakfast came out of the cooler wedged between the two front seats: hard-boiled eggs with clinging bits of shell, sliced deli roast beef so salty it made your throat hurt, plain lettuce, occasionally mealy apples or fibrous oranges with too much pith left on to taste nice. Stopping only occurred when absolutely necessary, lasted as briefly as possible.

As I got older the road trips multiplied: six hours for weddings and christenings and confirmations in New Jersey, 13 hours to interview at a university in Tennessee, five hours out before dawn on Monday but seven hours coming back after dinner on Thursday when my Dad worked on the Eastern Shore. My brother and I learned to drive on those journeys, more out of necessity than desire, because we could go further faster the more of us there were to split the task. We drank coffee and talked through the night, one person driving, one person keeping the driver awake, the rest asleep. On daytime trips the car was like our kitchen table with all of us talking over each other, getting in the words we didn’t have time to share when we weren’t on the move. Other people think of family and imagine them in a living room or dining room; mine in memory was most family-like, spent the most time together, in the car.

Read Sara Taylor’s piece for the Irish Times here

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