- Book: Journey to the Heartland
- Location: Oklahoma
- Author: Michelle Walsh Jackson
Roz has been given the opportunity to go to Oklahoma to write an article about the world of the ‘Wild West’. She knows that her father, now suffering from an eye condition (which means he has to rely on a stick and has minimal vision, a mere 10%) will jump at the chance to accompany her. His condition in no way dampens his enthusiasm for life and she just knows the pleasure he will have on such a trip.
And thus it is the two set out to spend time together, initially staying on a working farm with Casey and her father.. Yes, there is the prairie and acres of Longhorn cattle, they practise ranchero skills and riding horses. This makes an excellent and nurturing experience, a great start to their trip. From there it is on to the wonderfully named Ponca City where the Marland Mansion can be found and then on to Oklahoma City. Several other places follow thereafter. As they continue their trip around the state, digestible lessons in history have been threaded into their tour: they ponder the nature of human decency and exploitation, religion and atheism, marriage, domestic abuse and controlling behaviour (which is a deep rooted theme in the novel), and they reflect upon the plight and cultures of the Native American peoples. It is indeed a journey to the heartland of so many topics.
Being with her father prompts Roz to reflect on her life and marriage to Keith, her ex husband, who is a controlling man and had managed to alienate her from her father. She also had a difficult time with her mother, an alcoholic and controller of her father, and Roz has had to pick up the pieces of that early-years experience. There is a lot of ground to make up between her and her father, to restore the balance of what was once a terrific bond.
Whilst on this trip to Oklahoma, she has entrusted the welfare of her daughter Thalia to Keith, incorporating a short stay with one of her school friends. But when Roz phones, she knows that things aren’t quite right back home, a cause for concern indeed.
Early on in the story, as they are waiting to change planes in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, their paths cross with Michael, a Colonel in the Irish Army. There is clearly quite a spark between him and Roz, but once landed in Oklahoma, their paths diverge. Will they meet again perchance?
In this novel there are stories within stories, largely told by Roz’s father – who at times seems to have real understanding and perception, he is, it seems, a little fay; but also by the people whose paths they cross. Chance encounters and destiny play their part in the storyline; the power of coincidence is integral to the story.
There are many themes that the author is keen to sew into the narrative and whilst the trip around Oklahoma is very enjoyable and great for literary tourism, the drumbeat of these overarching and personal themes (you can really feel the author’s passion) proved, at times, to be interesting, yet just a little intense.