OFF THE TRACKS by Constance Hood


A Beatnik Family Journey
Email this review


Hood’s debut novel tells the story of a young girl whose divorced mother takes her family on a trip to Germany, where they live as vagabond beatniks in the early 1960s.

This family chronicle starts with 11-year-old Katrine Schloss’ newly divorced mother, Ellie, meeting Louis, an unemployed teacher from Greenwich Village. Ellie, an art teacher, is searching for both a new husband and a good time, and Louis introduces her to a new, freedom-loving way of life, even as he searches for his own identity. “Mom and Louis tried to explain to me that pursuit of possessions and pursuit of happiness are not the same thing,” Kate notes. “In other words, would I really be happier if I had a Barbie doll?” Ellie quickly adapts to the new, carefree lifestyle on weekends with Louis, who finally gets a job selling Volkswagen Beetles near Kate’s upstate New York home. The job takes him to Germany for a training program, and Ellie and her kids move there, as well, but live separately from him. The foursome takes many memorable weekend train journeys throughout Western Europe using forged Eurail passes. Kate’s mother can’t find a teaching job, though, because she speaks very little German. At one point, the family is forced to live in an unheated room on a farm with migrant workers. In the end, Ellie grows tired: “I’m not a kit, and you are not a hep cat,” she bluntly tells Louis. “I’m an art teacher and you are a car salesman.” In this debut, Hood delivers an offbeat, easy-to-read and sometimes-funny novel of the ’60s. It also offers strong historic references throughout (“Hey, did you hear that Khrushchev sent President Kennedy a New Year’s telegram?”). However, it might have been helpful if it had provided some clear comparisons to the hippie movement that came later in the decade, particularly for readers who are less familiar with the beatnik generation. Hood also never makes clear why Louis, who lives alone in Germany, doesn’t ever help Kate and her family financially. The surprising ending includes a shocking revelation about Louis and his pre-beatnik past.

An often appealing story about a young girl’s adventurous, yet impoverished, life on the road.

Pub Date: July 25th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1496922052
Page count: 218pp
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: