Albyn Leah Hall
I just finished reading Albyn Leah Hall's The Rhythm of the Road, and I am fairly impressed. Hall's debut novel takes place in England and is about a lonesome, depressive Irish truckdriver, Bobby, and his daughter, Jo. Bobby is all the family Jo has, as her mother, Rosalie, abandoned her at birth and returned to her California home. Bobby raises Jo in their lorry while on road with country music and junk food instead of with fresh air, public schools and plenty of vegetables.
That weekend we were off the road. We were in London, and London was making me sad the way only London could. I missed the transport caffs and the roundabouts and the road spinning beneath our wheels. I missed the motorways at night with their tall yellow lights or red lights or sometimes on the B roads, no lights at all. I missed the night itself, when there was no real bedtime.
It was Sunday, and I had school the next day, I hadn't been to school for three weeks and I could hardly remember what happened there, though I had the back-to-school smell in my nose already: a thickish smell of chalk and glue. Bobby said I was always miserable before school. "Ah, Jo," he said when I was like that, because he didn't have enough words to change my mood.
Jo's unique and solitary upbringing has left her socially stunted and once she meets the beautiful, rising country start Cosima Stewart, Jo begins to realize there are other opportunities in life than those of the road.
A few things were different about her. She was an American, but it was just that. On the road we met just about everybody: Welsh people and Irish people and Scots, German people and Spanish people and Americans and, of course, people from every part of England...
Cosima was a cowgirl, at least to look at. She wore a cowboy hat and a belt with a brass buckle. She wore a suede jacket, its fringe damp and tangled from being sat on in so many cars and lorries (or trucks because they didn't say lorry in the U.S.A.). Her accent wasn't broad, but her voice had gaps in it wide enough to park a lorry in. I'd ask her a question and she wouldn't say anything and I'd think she hadn't heard me. Just when I was about to ask it again, she would answer. Cosima always kept you waiting, even when she was right there next to you.
When Jo is eighteen, Bobby commits suicide on the ferry from Liverpool to Belfast. Jo is now alone in a world she is unprepared for. Within just a few pages Hall shows us the surprising and awkward ascention of girl to woman as Jo dives head first into drugs and promiscuous sex, using them as means to love and acceptance. Jo attaches herself to Cosima and her band as a groupie, Jo loves their music as if they were making it just for her. Soon, however, the band tires of her as they prepare for their American tour. Rejected, and with no place else to go, Jo morphs into a desperate stalker.
When I finally came out of the toilet Zero 7 was still playing, but nobody was in the sitting room. I wasn't hot anymore, but numb and cold and wanting my bed. I put on my coat and looked around for my hand bag. I found it on top of a pink chest of drawers, just before the door. One of the drawers was open. It was filled with matchbooks from Tokyo, New York and Brussels. There were cigarettes, foreign money, condoms and keys. Some of the keys had labels attached: MUM, CHARLOTTE, JAMIE, KATIE. And finally, RICK & COS.
I picked up the keys marked RICK & COS. I
could hear Bobby's voice in my head:
Put them back, will you Jo?
Hall's talent for writing and her ear for the awkward and absurd uncoils The Rhythm of the Road like a train wreck in slow motion. Many times throughout the book I found myself wincing and thinking, god, no, how can Jo do that? That, I believe is the mark of a job well done by this burgeoning story teller.
Albyn Leah Hall
The Rhythm of the Road
St. Martin's Press
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