A niece sets out on a quest to better understand an enigmatic aunt in this novel.
When readers first encounter Franniemarie Hanks, she is plagued with problems and uncertainties. For one, she’s engaged in a combustible relationship with her husband, Cricket. “I could kill him,” she muses, “might be worth it to never hear another country western whine.” Her one source of sanity is drawn from staring out into Nebraska’s prairie—an uncluttered expanse of possibility. When Franniemarie receives a call from the Oakland Welfare Department regarding her Aunt Dorien, who has been branded as “strictly loony tunes” and is living in a house worthy of being condemned, it appears like yet more bad news. What in fact transpires is a journey of self-discovery. Franniemarie grabs the car keys and heads “pedal to metal” into the Nebraska landscape, eager to learn more about her aunt, her family, and herself. She quickly discovers that Aunt Dorien has been committed but also that she was a prolific writer, albeit never published. Filling a wheelbarrow with notebooks from her aunt’s dilapidated bungalow, Franniemarie is delighted to discover Aunt Dorien’s undiscovered talent and begins piecing together family memories. Many classic road novels, like Kerouac’s On the Road, employ a male protagonist. Here, a daring heroine seizes the trajectory of the road, and the refreshing result is a tender exploration of the self. On her heart-rending odyssey, Franniemarie faces up to her own fraught past; yet finding solace in a creative endeavor, namely the art of writing, also becomes a key theme. Elliott (Songs of Bernie Bjorn, 2016, etc.), who’s also an accomplished poet, appears to have effortless access to a wealth of rich, beautiful imagery: “In the park, the flowering acacia bleeds scarlet, thru every break in foliage, a scarlet banner raised especially for me.” She also displays a shrewd understanding of the role of writing in catharsis and memory. The result is a rare thing: a clever, well-crafted novel that has both an absorbing storyline and the artful poignancy of an elegantly composed collection of poetry.
An emotionally intuitive and impeccably written tale focusing on a female adventurer.