Book review: Rush Home Road (Lori Lansens)

Available at all good bookstores, courtesy of Penguin Books South Africa.

If you love Wally Lamb, Lionel Shriver and Kathryn Stockett, and wish they’d just write faster, dammit, your heart will sing when you read your first Lori Lansens. She’s authored three books to date, every one of which I have passionately loved, and the latest, Rush Home Road, is an utter triumph.

(Note: This book is actually the author’s first, but released only now, in 2010.)

Rush Home Road is about Addy (Adelaide Shadd), a coloured woman living in a pristine square of Ontario trailer park, circa 1978. A neighbour, Collette, abandons her troubled five-year-old daughter Sharla one afternoon, to run off with the latest in a line of shady boyfriends, and Addy takes her in – beginning a beautiful, loving relationship that irrevocably transforms them both.

Throughout the novel, Addy recalls the tragic, turbulent and touching details of her 70 years: her childhood in Rusholme, a town settled by fugitive slaves in the mid 1800s; L’il Leam, her baby brother; Chick, her lost daughter; heart-rending sadnesses; blissful moments; successes; hungers and feasts.

She daydreams about past lovers, old friends and kind strangers. She dips in and out of her history, both consciously and unconsciously – and against the backdrop of historical events like the Underground Railroad, the Pullman porter movement and Prohibition – the tapestry of Addy’s life unfolds.

This writer has been likened to John Steinbeck but for me, her style is much more contemporary than that. She’s what Pat Conroy would be if he got to the point; what Jeffery Eugenides would be if he kept it slightly simpler. She’s as good as both, but cleaner. More concise. If possible, more disciplined.

In short, Lansens is a superlative writer, and her trio of books – The Girls, The Wife’s Tale and now Rush Home Road – succeeds masterfully in showcasing how unusual story ideas, exquisite character development, fabulous plotting and great structure can manifest in three completely different ways. Unlike so many writers who find their way, see that it works and then stick rigidly to it, there’s no formula here – Lansens just gets it right every time.