I know what you’re thinking: I’m totally gonna read that! And it might be a great idea. Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road is one of those books where the present is a poetic haze and the past unravels slowly. It’s also a highly sexual and sometimes violent book with many disturbing (though not horribly graphic) scenes. Be warned. It’s not for the light of heart, and if you normally read inspirational prairie novels, I advice against picking this one up.
If you’re still in, keep reading.
Byrne doesn’t have much to say about herself on the back flap, so I decided to look her up on Google. Wikipedia writes:
She earned a B.A. in biochemistry and religion at Wellesley College and an M.S. in geochemistry at MIT. Wanting to become an astronaut and go to Mars, she became an intern at NASA. However, instead of pursuing a scientific career, she decided to become a writer.
Wow. That’s an interesting background. It explains a lot of the flavors in this novel. It takes place in a believable future where global power is centered in India and shifting to Africa. The whole book has the quality of unfolding, so Byrne doesn’t overwhelm you with the setting. You really have to read it. But here are some key points:
There’s a sexual revolution in the wake of nanobiotics that eliminate worrisome STDs and effective birth control that can be turned off once an individual decides to have a child. Technology has advanced far enough ahead that you can squint at a cloud around a person’s head to read up on them (an even creepier form of social media). There’s a company called HydraCorp that creates energy from everything ranging between wind and human fecal matter. Oh yeah… people are chipped. But none of this is presented in a dystopic, threatening way. Kind of refreshing if you ask me.
It begins with Meena who is in a manic state. She’s just been bit by a snake. She says it’s been put in her bed by an organization called Semena Werk. For some reason this means she needs to get out of the country, but the situation isn’t entirely clear. In fact, I had a hard time investing myself in the story at first. I felt almost dizzy, but the character seems dizzy. I kept reading.
HydraCorp bult a wind and wave energy harvester that stretches like a snake across the Arabic sea. Meena wants to walk across it to Africa where her parents were killed. She had planned this pilgrimage with her lover, Mohini, but in the desperation to flee, she has decided to go now. Walking across what most people refer to as The Trail is not easy. The ocean is a violent and vast place. As much as it is a physical journey for Meena, the harshness of what she is doing forces her to confront her internal self as well.
Religion and spirituality are definitely themes in this novel. Right beside sex, survival, language, race, and class. It covers a lot. I’m not going to write a term paper for you, but this gives you an idea of what to look forward to.
As Meena tells her story, an African girl named Mariama tells hers. She speaks in second person to a woman called Yemaya and begins telling about her childhood. Much like Meena, she is forced to flee her home because of a snake. This leads her to Francis and Muhammed who are transporting crude oil to Ethiopia. Along the way they pick up Yemaya who pays them to transport her. Mariama idolizes and worships this woman. Literally.
Meena and Mariama will cross paths eventually. Their stories will collide in a way you might not expect. In fact, this whole novel probably won’t be what you’re anticipating no matter what plot synopsis you read. You haven’t read a story like this before. (And if you have, please tell me about it.)