Monday, June 1, 2015

Review: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

Books can capture us, hold our attention, and leave us fretting or rejoicing over characters' circumstances for days, weeks, or even months after we have returned the stories to our bookshelves. Very few books, however, do something more than merely entertain us.

In the category of The Very Few, we find books that make us reassess ourselves as thinkers, sexual beings, citizens of a nation, or even as human beings in relation to humanity at large. My entire reading life, I could only call to mind one novel that affected me in all four of these ways: Rubyfruit Jungle by Rite Mae Brown.

I added one more novel to my Very Few this weekend: The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne.

The Girl in the Road focuses on two journeys that span two continents and an ocean as well as the past, the future, and the present.

The plot is told by two dynamic narrators: Meena, a late-20-something living in India, and Mariama, a young ex-slave traveling through Africa.

Very much like the "inner temple" metaphor the character Meena uses to explain her path to finding her birth mother, The Girl in the Road is like an unfolding, a slow yet somehow rapid series of parallel revelations that only unveil their semena werk, their "golden meaning," at the very end of the novel.

I alternately fell in love with and hated both of these narrators, for -- in subconscious homage to the novel itself -- very similar reasons.

Meena is a vivacious feminist full of life with an open view of sexual experiences, which are her way of communicating that which she cannot say. She falls in love with a transgender woman, who serves as one of her "spirit guides/counselors" when she travels on the Trail, a Trans-Arabian Sea bridge that harvests wave energy. I came to love the character Meena because of her viewpoint on life and the depth to which she loved Mohini, the transgender woman that she has to abandon at the very beginning of the novel. At the end, I began to hate her for these very selfsame reasons.

Mariama is a young girl with a hunger for world experiences and the woman Yemaya, an African activist who joins Mariama's traveling party to escape a sexually abusive father. Mariama's entire storyline is addressed to the character Yemaya, as though Mariama is trying to fill Yemaya in on her life. Constantly battling "the kreen," a negative feeling that manifests itself in physical pain in her solar plexus, Mariama experiences girlhood, womanhood, and sex through the lens of Yemaya's "goddess" status. When Mariama finds a way to purge herself of the kreen, she seeks to reunite herself with Yemaya.

Though there were brief periods of time when I disliked both characters, my lasting sentiment of this novel is a deep appreciate for the struggles of Meena and Mariama. At the end of the novel, I found myself wide-awake at 3 A.M., contemplating my own love life and my relationship with my own mother.

This novel is definitely worth reading if you want to reflect on the shadowy, mysterious "inner chambers" that exist within us all, and I look forward to reading whatever Monica Byrne publishes next.

Sound interesting? Also check out Monica Byrne's website.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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