A note of sadness runs through Katherine Silva’s new novel about two strangers embarking on road trip, and this is not a bad thing. Spencer, a divorced, lonely lawyer encounters Calleigh one day at his local Starbucks in Maine. Although the two don’t know each other, Calleigh asks him out of the blue if he’ll accompany her to Oregon to attend an environmental conference. Taken aback by this free-spirited girl’s brashness, he heads back to his soul-sucking law office where he mulls over her request. There, he takes inventory of his life: his job sucks, his wife has left him and he suffers from debilitating panic attacks. Why the hell not, he reasons. A cross-country trip with a tree hugger might be the adventure needed to shake up his life.
Thus begins the road trip between these two opposites-attract. Romantic foibles ensue, as does the comedic give-and-take reminiscent of vintage black-and-white movies. But Silva’s touch is deft and her ear keen to the way people speak to each other. Her writing is spare but elegant and she manages to tell this story without overplaying her hand as an author. Too much would have weighted down this delicate story and drowned it. Calleigh remains a mystery, and much of what we learn about her (and not much in fact) is by her actions and not by exposition. Many writers might have overdone it and forced the issue, given us a detailed backstory of her life, but Silva lets the characters carry the story’s water.
This is a small novel, focused and narrow, but it very powerfully depicts the isolation that many of us endure in our lives. Technology, the burdens of work and modern society have forced us into our respective corners, and the silent despair many experience seeks outlet. Silva uses high comedy and romantic tension to heighten the juxtaposition between feelings of isolation and the characters’ desire for human contact. Her spare prose at times reminded me of the work of Raymond Carver, around every corner a hint of sadness lurking, waiting to descend.
Although this book is slim, you feel the slow burn at the back of your throat once you finish it. Something indelible lingers. The inevitability of the characters falling for each other is all but a given. But will it last? My guess is it won’t. My guess is that these two complete opposites will eventually drift apart, despite hoping otherwise. Opposites attract, but they’re opposites for a reason. It is how Starbucks has made billions from peoples’ desire to connect.