The Road Trip. For many it is the quintessential activity of summer. For others it is an agonizing (and often nauseous) period of time cramped into a tiny space, often subjected to lousy music. Personally, I love the idea of tossing a few belongings into the trunk, downloading some podcasts onto my phone and mapping out my route while leaving plenty of time for unexpected stops along the way. Today, I’m going to explore the Road Trip with two novels and a film.
I picked this book up largely due to its beautiful design but once inside its pages I found myself thoroughly fascinated by this tale of Brother Ben, the last of the “True Delta Bluesmen”, and Silent Sam, his harp playing sidekick, as they hit the road on their last North American tour. With a comedic tone that ventures into some darker territory, this novel tackles themes of self identity, fame, race and what it means to be “authentic”. Full of heart, intelligence, music and humour, I’d gladly fill the tank of this road trip story, even at today’s gas prices, just so I could spend more time with these characters!
Canadian author Miriam Toews, best known for her novel “A Complicated Kindness“, manages both screwball humour and heartbreaking sadness in this story about a quirky family road trip. When her sister Min is checked into a psychiatric hospital, 28-year old Hattie finds herself flying from Paris to Winnipeg to take care of her nephew and niece: Logan, a strangely quiet teenager who has just been expelled from school, and Thebes, a precocious 11-year old with purple hair, a strong dislike of bathing, and the inability to stop chattering. When their mother refuses visitors, Hattie packs the kids into the car and sets off to find their missing father…with only a clue or two as to his whereabouts. The premise certainly sounds familiar (comparisons to the film Little Miss Sunshine come to mind) and Thebes’ quirkiness is a bit much at times but I really did find myself moved by this family’s journey in a time of turmoil.
Released during Italy’s golden age of cinema in the early 60s, this comedic film is often overshadowed by other Italian films of the era. Like the two novels mentioned above, Il Sorpasso mixes both humour and darkness, carefree comedy and tragedy. The story involves an unlikely pair on a road adventure from Rome to Tuscany. A shy, straight-laced law student played by Jean-Louis Trintignant lets a roguish, fun-loving bachelor played by Vittorio Gassman use his telephone. He is soon whisked away in a sporty convertible by this same fellow, who he finds to be bewildering but also quite funny. The sunny country landscapes and buoyant 60s Italian pop soundtrack contrast with the social commentary and sense of impending tragedy laying just below the surface. This Italian film feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air, even 50 years after it was released.