Sunday, January 2, 2011
Book Review: Rush Home Road
I would never have imagined that I would end this book unable to stop thinking about the characters and the story. I really stumbled upon it in the library. I forget what exactly I was looking for, but ended up tucking this under my arm. The first third of the book took me several weeks of occasional moments grabbed for reading. But yesterday, I spent enough of the day glued to the book that even my husband asked, "What's so special about that book that you cannot tear yourself away from it?"
I began skeptical, because the characters presented were despicable and the early events in the life of the small child was almost unbearable to read. I didn't enjoy the introduction. I thought of putting the book aside. However, every time I dashed out the door to take Trevor to his wrestling club practice (he has joined a kid's wrestling practice and loves that his older brother often helps the coach with instruction), that was the book near the door, waiting for another brief installment of reading.
Something certainly happened along the way. I began to love the main characters and really care about what happened to them. I felt as if I could see the worlds they populated. I cared enough to see past the gratuitous sexual encounters detailed in the book (something I have never felt comfortable reading and wish authors could explain in the most limited sense possible).
Lori Lansen's first novel, Rush Home Road, tells the story of a 70 year old African-American woman, Adelaide Shadd, and the five year old girl, Sharla Cody, who ends up in her care. Sharla's white-trash mother, Collette, hopes to find someone to care for the girl for the summer because her newest boyfriend cannot abide the child. Even on the way to Addy Shadd's trailer in Chatham, Ontario, Sharla's belongings are grabbed up by a neighbor girl and she arrives without clothing or the promised money. When Addy takes the girl home to inquire about the money, they discover that the mother and boyfriend have abandoned the child.
As Addy cares for the girl, and transforms her into a lovable child, she begins to relive (sometimes out loud, without realizing it, in the girl's presence) her difficult past. What a long, arduous journey she has travelled. She tells of her youthful love for Chester Monk, her unspoken rape by a family friend, her brother's desire to avenge her wrong, ending in both his and Chester's death and her own exile from home. For the rest of her life, she is taunted by a refrain, "Rush home, Addy, to Rusholme," urging her to return to the town of her birth (a town settled by fugitive slaves in the 1800s).
One of my favorite scenes in the book came as she is seeking some place to live and give birth to her child. After being turned out of a home in a nearby town (they are aware of who she is and cannot let her stay), the woman of the home advises her to travel to her cousin's home in Detroit. She is sure the man will take young Addy in because his wife is close to death and he has two teenage children to cook and care for.
Addy arrives to discover that the wife has just died and the home is full of well-wishers. She enters and plays the part of well-wisher until probed for questions of her connection to the deceased. She spills her whole sordid story, hoping to gain their sympathy. The cousin stands and says, "Adelaide Shadd, I do not believe you .... I do not believe it was cousin Lenny who sent you to us."
She is crestfallen. He continues: "This is what I believe, Young Adelaide. I believe that you are a good child and a grievous wrong has been done unto you. I believe that the Lord sent you to us like a gift, and I would be honored if you lived in my home and allowed me to know the power of the Holy Spirit through you."
The rest of the story continues similarly, with numerous bad turns of fortune in Addy Shadd's life. Some would say too many misfortunes befall this character to be believable, but by the end of the story, I found myself feeling better for having known Addy Shadd and all her misfortune. The steps of her path were winding and sad, but with purpose. Moreover, the power of love and memory work to redeem even the sordid details in the lives of both Addy and Sharla.
I will not soon forget this story or the characters in it. If you can get past the painfully sordid events and the sex scenes in this book, you will glean a nugget of hope and a story of redemption and triumph.