Book Review: Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens
by Lori Lansens
Vintage Canada, 2003
A friend went into a bookstore and asked the owner to recommend a book “with teeth.” My friend left the bookstore with Rush Home Road in hand, and she liked the bite of it so much, she passed it on to me. That is how I encountered Rush Home Road eleven years after it was published.
The title refers to the road leading away from, and back to, the town of Rusholme—a fictional all-black community based on the real-life community of Buxton, Ontario. Rusholme was a southern Ontario landing spot on the Underground Railroad, the path to freedom for slaves fleeing from the United States, and Lansens’ heroine grows up in the town during the prohibition years. When Addy Shadd is on the cusp of womanhood, a tragic event, and an even more tragic misunderstanding, cause her to take the road out of town. Years later, when she is a 70-year-old living in a trailer park, a young child comes into her care. The challenges the child, Sharla, faces mirror those Addy faced as a child. In guiding Sharla to a better life, Addy unearths her own buried memories and traumas and clears the way for a return to Rush Home Road.
Two stories intertwine here: a short one involving Sharla and the reasons for her abandonment, and a seven-decade long one detailing Addy’s eventful life. To tell the interconnecting stories, Lansens crisscrosses present day and memory, but she does so seamlessly; flashbacks don’t stand out as flashbacks. Lansens writes convincingly from the child-like view of Sharla and from the age-worn view of Addy. The result is a book that is both plot-driven and character-driven.
This story is surprisingly uplifting, given that the two main characters are a poor black woman and a mixed-race trailer park child, both abandoned by their mothers. Lansens infuses the characters and the stories with such hope and humanity that the tale never feels too daunting. There are irretrievable losses and failings left unforgiven, but there are also friendships, new loves and salves applied to wounds.
The bookstore owner was right. This story has teeth, and I liked it.