A Feature Review of
Home is the Road: Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit
Reviewed by Jenn Moland-Kovash
The blurbs on the back of Diane Glancy’s new book, Home is the Road, contain phrases such as “strikingly original,” “a marvel of movement,” and, perhaps my favorite: “Relax. Set aside your rationalistic insistence on linearity, plain meaning, and predictable connections.”
It might have been helpful if I had read those before I opened the (stunningly gorgeous – with or without the dust jacket) cover, but I didn’t. Instead I cracked open the book and settled into Part I: “This Village Called a River.” Those first few pages set the reader up perfectly: this will be a story about car travel, life in Middle America, Christianity, and Native culture. This first part is only 10 pages, but what pages they are!
I will say, if you’re looking for a memoir with a clear story arc, you probably won’t feel like you have found it in this book. Some of the characters remain constant, especially if you consider the road a character, which it certainly is in this book, but Glancy doesn’t tell a story of a family or an individual so much as she takes the reader along as she drives. And drives. And drives. In one month, she catalogs that she drove over 4,000 miles. And that is just one example of what might be described as significant mileage in a given period of time.
Several pages and sections begin as you might imagine a travel journal: “It is 1,555 miles from the duplex in Monrovia, California, to my house on the eastern border of Kansas.” She names highways, road signs, bridges. She describes the change in altitude, weather. She passes trains, breaks down, needs a new battery, feels alone as a single traveler in a café of couples. She travels through Tucumcari a lot. She leads movers across the country as she changes dwellings. She sleeps at far more rest stops than I was comfortable with her doing; somehow she swiftly endeared herself to me, and I held my breath every time she wrote that she slept in her car at a rest stop. The title and subtitle of the book take shape on the pages, Home is the Road: Wandering the Land, Shaping the Spirit. It is her time on the road that has shaped her and her thoughts that she shares, the plays that she writes, the classes that she teaches.
When I think of poetry, I picture short lines, interlocking thoughts, punchy phrases that surprise me, inventive language. And while I’ve given up trying to categorize this book, at least in any tidy way, there is definitely a poetic aspect to Glancy’s writing in this volume. She is a playwright and a poet, as well as a writer of nonfiction and a teacher of writing, and reading these pages you can feel all of that coming together. The book is divided into eight sections, not equal in length or structure; some of them are subdivided further. Are these acts of a play? Stanzas of an epic narrative poem? Again, as Daniel Taylor wrote in his jacket blurb, “Relax. … You are in the hands of Diane Glancy.”
Because so much of this work feels like I could (and will) come back to it in smaller portions, I started to see the ways this might work as a devotional guide. Faith, and Christianity specifically, is a main character in this writing – though it is, thankfully, a far cry from a pious primer. Some pages begin with a quote or two, a passage of scripture or something else related; however, what follows isn’t a direct reflection on the verse or an expository essay. Jesus, she observes, I think – regretted he didn’t live in the time of interstates. I think he and his disciples would have been a long-distance truck-driving herd of buffalo. And while I cackled out loud when I read that description, it was partly because of the image it gave me, but also because it made me consider Jesus living in the time of interstates. Is Jesus on the road with us? The pages here are interspersed with prayers and reflections on faith, mind wanderings and ruminations that she might have jotted down after a marathon session of driving before drifting off to sleep in a motel or her backseat. Some of them feel more complete than others; but even in a less-developed phrase she leaves openness, and there is space for the reader to expand and grow. She prays for those whose lives “are one long drive to California after another” and knows herself to be dust, “breathed into by the breath of God.” She writes that “Christianity means holding onto what has been discarded” and carries that in tension with the reality that “often, religion is irritating.”
Truthfully, I read this book too quickly. I am new to the concept of having a book on hand to read that is a slow and steady read; far more often in my life I have picked up page-turners and read late into the night. I have sped forward, missing details along the way in a hurry to know the ending. Somehow I had the idea that a book must pull me forward fast in order to be compelling. That is not the motive of Home is the Road, and it should not be read with that mindset. From those first few pages it was clear to me that this was going to be (or should be for me) a different kind of book. Slow down. Read it again. You can’t rush the highway, and you shouldn’t rush these pages.
Jenn Moland-Kovash is an ELCA pastor serving in the Chicago suburbs. She writes sporadically for a variety of publications, including The Christian Century. She reads voraciously, watches a lot of baseball, and is happiest next to water.