When narrative is not perfect but is as touchy and overwhelmingly real as Lydia Kiesling‘s is, there is no place to hide.
This road trip novel is more about loneliness and stillness of time than any other on the road book you have ever read.
Although Lydia Kiesling is not at all a stranger in the world of letters (she is the editor of The Millions and has been featured in The New Yorker, The Guardian and The New York Times) this is her first novel and it is a very good one indeed. Her writing moves from one extreme to the other as her character does the same. She is going at a calm pace and describing with a beautiful flood of adjectives when Daphne, the main character is at a moment of ease, but when she is a full steam mother, her writing becomes minimalistic, full of single words and flooded with verbs. This ability the author has to embody into words what her character does with actions is what gives the novel the raw edge that sets it apart from the rest.
Young, Lonely Mother
The novel is about a moment that is suspended in time. It takes ten days for Daphne, a single mom travelling with her daughter Honey from San Francisco to Altavista to make a crucial decision in her life. Her husband, Honey´s father is stuck in Turkey (where he´s from) because of bureaucracy and can´t make it home. She is travelling to Altavista because her grandparents left her a mobile home there.
The story comes and goes with the concept of motherhood and takes on the subject from a realistic point of view. Daphne doesn’t have the time to explain us, readers, what she is going through, because she is so busy with Honey, she can´t cope with much more. That sense of closeness she generates with us is fantastic. Her life is so real, and her feelings are so well exposed that you are all the time on her side, wanting things to turn out great for young Daphne and Honey.
The novel manages to build such a big amount of pressure during those ten days that you would expect, as I did, that the finale was something spectacular, but it is not. Perhaps, that is my only criticism to Lydia, because she lets the plot unravel softly and graciously while you are on the edge of explosion. It is not perfectly written but her prose is so powerful it just sucks you in from the first page.
Dealing with such a delicate matter as it is motherhood and doing it with enough distance to avoid pathetic becoming pitiful and turning it into funny, but also enough closeness to generate the needed empathy in the reader is a very hard thing to do and Lydia Kiesling does it like if it was her 10th novel. It is a must for us, single moms, but also for those who have friends who are single moms and wonder what is it like in an everyday basis.