let’s review: the ghosts who travel with me

ghostsIn her literary pilgrimage-centered memoir, The Ghosts Who Travel with Me, Allison Green explores the landscapes of Richard Brautigan, the author who impacted her most, as well as her own landscape of ancestry and personal histories. Following the path of Brautigan’s best known novel, Trout Fishing in America, Green and her partner Arline road trip from Washington to Idaho, retracing the steps of Brautigan’s narrator, who travels with a family much like his own, lending the Trout Fishing fiction an autobiographical lens.

Not familiar with Brautigan myself—(born too late, to reference Green’s recognition of Brautigan’s initially generational fame)—I became familiar with the voice of an author I have not read: his succinct, metaphorical and satirical writing style, often contrasting the great outdoors with American materialism and culture (“a creek is narrow like a line of telephone booths, and another is like a department store”). In many cases, his narrative distance is somehow right up next to the nearness of his words.

In a similar vein, Green’s writing is often succinct in observation, although not lacking beauty in description. From her family tree, to coming of age, to the objects and places we declare to hold meaning for us, Green glimpses her pilgrimage through a wide-angle lens, not only focusing on Brautigan, but on her own story that has brought her to this point. Green extends her own questions to larger wonderings of the collective “we”—offering tokens of symbolism, such as her grandmother’s bracelets or a faded, well-loved paperback, that beg to discover a broader context: “But isn’t that what readers do? We conjure our own writers of the books we love. We travel with them, argue with them, kiss them, turn away from them only to turn back and sigh in nostalgia over what they—and we—once were.”

The romantic reader in me hoped for a bigger build, a strong sense of author attachment laced with a bit of mystery, perhaps, all leading up to a defining burst of recognition. However, the author herself is aware she’s “more interested in sentences and paragraphs than in narrative momentum.” As a reader, I can be very patient, content with quiet narratives that follow language more than plot. Admittedly, though, sometimes I want both. Still, The Ghosts Who Travel with Me is a worthwhile wandering along a reader’s road, stopping along the way to consider what we leave behind, and what holds lasting power enough to remain with us.

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