Monday, August 10, 2009


journey, the novel of--a longform narrative in which one or more characters embark on a trip involving a quest; an extended story involving running away from or returning to a locale, or visiting a previously unknown terrain; a longed-for visit to a particular site; may also be a picaresque wander year.

In formulaic terms, the novel of journey represents a long travel that produces some form of resolution and, if not resolution, some discovery or awareness, thus you can see thematic and symbolic interpretations being drawn to the form like ornaments to a Christmas tree. One of the most venerable tales of journey focus on Odysseus, returning to his homeland of Ithaca after having fought in the Trojan War, a journey in which the protagonist encounters and deals with a full ensemble cast of gods, goddesses, monsters, mere mortals, and mortal temptations. Geoffrey Chaucer's reputation as a storyteller rests heavily on his framework tale of a group of pilgrims on their way to the Canterbury Cathedral, telling stories to pass the time. Jack Kerouac set out on a journey, a road journey, ostensibly to capture the warp and weft of the American experience, in the process finding the four-lane paved highway of his voice and crystallized sensitivity. In The Grapes of Wrath, the Joad family, over their heads in debt, their Oklahoma land awash in the dregs of the Dust Bowl storms and drought, set off on a journey to the land of milk and honey, or at least opportunity. Gus McRae and Woodrow Call, bored in their retirement as Texas Rangers, undertake a cattle drive from Texas to Montana, but first they have to steal the cattle in order to have the cattle drive, thus a brief venture south into Mexico to literally rustle up a herd, then Lonesome Dove can begin in earnest. John Haskell's 2005 novel, American Purgatorio, begins with a man whose wife inexplicably disappears while they have stopped at a gas station, then leads to a journey in which the husband tries to find the missing Annie.

Perhaps this quote will resonate with some recognition: "I am looking for the man who shot and killed my father, Frank Ross, in front of the Monarch boardinghouse. The man's name is Tom Chaney. They say he is over in the Indian Territory and I
need somebody to go after him." The speaker is fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross, the principal in Charles Portis's journey-within-a-novel, True Grit.

The journey novel is by its very nature a metaphor, the object of which is more or less in the hands of the writer. In 1494, Sebastian Brant published such a metaphor, called The Ship of Fools. Some five hundred years later, (1962)Katherine Anne Porter published her own version of The Ship of Fools, arguably less metaphoric in the overt sense, but nevertheless giving pause for reflection. Porter's Ship had an ensemble cast moving from Germany to Mexico at the outset of World War II. Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist is yet another of the potential ways for the novel of the journey to provide a means of transportation to a destination that by its very nature is electric with surprise and provocative aftertaste.

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