Literature has always loved a good road trip. From Homer’s "Odyssey" to Tolkien’s adventures in Middle Earth to Kerouac’s "On The Road", the storyline has never left us. These road narratives often follow the same themes. The trip is usually a metaphor for growth and self-discovery. And when the hero returns home, he is a stronger person, more resolute, and ready to take on problems that would have vexed him before the trip.
New author Elizabeth Dutton bravely takes on this literary standard in her new novel "Driftwood". Unlike a lot of the classic road novels, though, Dutton’s protagonist is a woman. Los Angeles native Clem Jasper is the youngest child of a 70’s rock god. When her father dies of a heart attack, he leaves her only a series of letters. The letters lead her on a journey around California, with each new envelope giving her directions to her next stop. The trip her father has carefully laid out in his letters takes her through his life story, the good choices and moments, and the bad. Yes, like other road trip tales this is a journey of self-discovery, but what makes it different is that like Clem, we don’t know the end. We share each stop, each letter with her; making everything feel so much more intimate.
Dutton has a real skill for creating realistic characters. From the first chapter, every one of her characters feels alive and dynamic, with their own unique traits and voices. Clem and her two siblings each seem to represent a different stereotype of the millennial generation. There’s the aggressive worker, the naturalist, and the free spirit lacking any aspirations. Clem is the last one, and it’s obvious that her drifting is why her father chooses her to go on this journey.
While this book falls firmly into the road narrative, Dutton is still able to add surprising and modern twists to the familiar plot. One of the things I found interesting in this book is how different this road trip is than the ones in novels like "On the Road" or "The Hobbit". In those classic road trip stories, everything recognizable is left behind. But in Dutton’s novel, Clem really never leaves her family. At every stop, Clem calls her friends and family to update them on her journey. You might think that connection would undermine the power of the road trip narrative, which is all about self-discovery and striking out on your own, but it actually doesn’t. Also, Dutton has added in some nice twists into the mix, truly claiming the road trip narrative as her own.
In "Driftwood", the road trip story is still strong and full of possibility. The literary standard definitely survives thanks to a playful rock singer. So put on your favorite classic rock mix tape and sit back with this book. "Driftwood" is a journey worth taking.
There are two new ways you can check out Scott's own writing. His novel "My Problem With Doors" has been released for the Kindle, and his book "A Jane Austen Daydream" is now an audiobook on Audible and iTunes. You can find out more information via his writing blog "The Musings and Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard" at sdsouthard.com.