This year is 1933. Margie Kinnard had hired a man to drive her to Hollywood, but he stole her money so she had to return to her hometown in Missouri. Her father Elmer who has had very little contact with her for all her life has offered her a ride to California. He and two other men who have each operated an ice business have sold out. They will form a truck caravan to Bakersfield and start up a new business together – in California they need ice year round. Margie is uncertain why Elmer is striking up a relationship now, but she decides to go. She had roles in high school drama productions, and people told her she was very talented so this is her big chance.
Others in the caravan include the Putmans, Alvin and Grace, and their blind son Rusty who is a talented musician and songwriter. The other family is the Lukers – father Foley, his teenage children Mona and Jody, and his new wife Sugar. Sugar is cruel to Foley’s children, particularly his daughter, but has managed to hide her true nature from her husband. They will travel Route 66 and camp along they way.
At one of their first camps, they meet Brady Hoyt and his five-year-old niece Anna Marie. Brady’s twin brother Brian had shot and killed his wife and her lover then shot himself. Brady is taking Anna Marie to an aunt in California because he doesn’t feel able to care for the girl on his ranch. Brady has taken Brian’s lesson to heart – loving means opening yourself to inevitable hurt from the one you love. Brady and Anna Marie join the caravan. Traveling with a group is safer than traveling alone because there are many men who have resorted to crime and will prey on unprotected travelers.
The small group heads west. Along the way they will experience danger, tragedy, betrayal, and love.
As long as this road story stays on the highway, it provides insight into the living and travel conditions of a not-so-long-ago era. This is a time period that’s under-represented in the romance genre. For a generation who’s used to doing 65+ mph on a four-lane interstate and adequate hotel, restaurant, and bathroom facilities at nearly every exit, this literary journey can be an eye-opener.
The plot and character development make for a bumpier ride. The plot is thin and simplistic; the character development is one-dimensional. The characters come in two varieties: honest, salt-of-the-earth folks who talk nicely:
I’m trying to say that now you have the means to fulfill your dream of seeing Hollywood without having to worry where your next meal will come from.”
“I woke up from that childish dream as soon as I met you. I have another now–the dream of going home, living with you in our cabin, cooking and cleaning for my husband and our little girl, giving you all the love in my heart.”
Or crooked, immoral scum who talk dirty:
“Get outta them clothes, pretty little bitch. I’m horny as a rutting moose, hard as a rock and randy as a two-peckered mountain goat.
“I’ve got just what ya need, my lusty stud,” she said, squeezing him.
Life during the Depression could be tough, and in a time before supersonic speeds and instant communication, things moved more slowly, but that doesn’t necessarily make for a very gripping story line. There are only so many times that Anna Marie is in desperate need of an outhouse, the group has a campfire sing-along, or the men folk are trying to figure out how many miles to the next campsite before things get pretty dull. The plot simply isn’t weighty enough to make a full-length novel.
This is a sequel to Mother Road, and there are several hints that it may be a sequel to yet another book or two, but it stands well on its own. Those readers who haven’t read the earlier books won’t be at a loss.
There’s also something a little strange about the plot: there must have been some miscommunication between the author and the publisher. The ARC (advance reading copy) I read had a blurb on the back cover, and the same blurb is posted on barnesandnoble.com. It came as something of a surprise to discover that this isn’t that story at all! Regardless, this is a book that fails to deliver on several levels.