This is one of the most unique novels you’ll ever read! It’s sparse, yet very rich and layered. Not just in its story and themes, but stylistically. A young nameless family, a blended family of four set out on a road trip across country during the summer. Going along the Appalachian route, they drive through Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Texas and beyond. Along the way, they make discoveries about these various locations, but also about themselves and each other. The catalyst for the family vacation is more than just traditional rest and relaxation or fun and amusement. In addition to the fact that the father is collecting information and sound for a work project- he’s an audio documentarian- he and his wife are seriously considering this as their last time together as a couple, with their kids. Although they spend days on end in close quarters in the car, in hotel rooms and in the bed, they are in their separate worlds. When not lovingly tending to their children, they are in detached, finding solace in their own thoughts, work and concerns. This is especially true for the wife who is consumed with and personally touched by the immigration crisis unfolding at the Southwestern border. It is the ever present backdrop as news reports leap from news radio reports and seep into her consciousness and the boy and girl’s curiosity.
In their car, they play games and sing along to music, but on the radio, there is news about an "immigration crisis": thousands of kids trying to cross the southwestern border into the United States, but getting detained--or lost in the desert along the way
It’s a journey story that covers themes such as childhood, marriage- the disintegration of it or maybe its rebirth, immigration issues, native American history, politics and injustices. It is presented from several perspectives and voices, which would be a challenge to successfully pull off by most, but lands perfectly for Luiselli. While there are so many laudable aspects to this novel, one undeniable stand-out is that this is a book that you not only read, but you hear, see and feel. So much of it is about sounds, observations and empathy. It resonates with emotions although keeping the reader at a curious distance. While reading it, you want to look up maps or listen to certain songs, make a list of other books to read or re-read. You really feel like you’re in the car with this family experiencing what they are, like a book their reading or song listening to or oral history the father is sharing about Native Americans or seeing the Polaroids the son is taking. This is a wholly unique novel to not just be read, but experienced.