A family of four sets out on a road trip from New York to Arizona, father and mother each trying to find material for a personal project along the way. One want to go to Arizona to study the Apaches who were forced to give up their land, one to the borders to study migrants trying to make it to America. It’s the last trip for a family about to separate, and whilst the parents are worrying about finding meaning in their own lives through their projects, the children are trying to find a plan to stick together when their parent split up.
I thought this novel was beautifully written. It had a timeless, melancholy feel to it. Yet it turned out to be a frustrating read, because the story just didn’t work for me. First of all I didn’t expect to be reading about a disintegrating marriage, and I still don’t get why it was disintegrating. Secondly, the children don’t seem like children, the father we barely notice even though he’s there for the entire journey, and the people they met along the way don’t seem like real people. All the characters seem like tools to promote some kind of message, though it’s still a bit unclear to me what that message is supposed to be. I want believable characters and character development in my fiction, and this book just didn’t have that, at least not for me.
In addition, the themes aren’t explored in depth, it all seems a bit random, chaotic and vague. Native Americans forced to give up their land, immigrants choosing to flee their homes in search of a better life, that is what I though this book would be about. And it is, on occasion. Immigration is the main focus, whilst Native Americans are mentioned every now and again, though I don’t think the author draws a clear line between them, or offers some insight that makes each topic seem important to the story.
In other words, loved the writing, but couldn’t quite get on board with the story. Believable characters and character development is key for me to love a novel. You’d think an archivist would love a novel about documentation, but apparently that’s not always the case. Luiselli did write short elegies for the lost children within this novel, though, and they were stunning. If this had been a novella containing only the elegies I might have loved this, but the novel as a whole was not for me.