Lori Lansens,
Rush Home Road
(Time Warner, 2002)

The audiobook Rush Home Road by Lori Lansens has the feel of a biography in the sense that the listener gets to follow the life-changing segments of main character Addy Shadd's long and hard existence. The story is full of emotional events that will surely pull at the heartstrings of most listeners.

The story begins in the 1980s when an old Addy is asked by one of her trailer-park neighbors to watch 5-year-old Sharla Cody. Before long, the listener will realize that young Sharla, who never knew her daddy, has been abandoned by her mother as well. To find out if this is more of a curse or a blessing for either Addy or Sharla, the listener will have to donate six hours to the tale.

The connection between these two individuals seems tenuous at first. Addy is an old "colored" lady who is too proud of her heritage to refer to herself as "black." Sharla, on the other hand, has mixed blood. And, while I was shocked at her abandonment, it soon becomes apparent that Sharla is in much better hands with the protective Addy, who treats Sharla as if she were Sharla's grandmother and not just a guardian.

Most of the four tapes are spent on Addy's past in the 1920s and '30s. She is forced out of her birth town of Rusholme as a teen after becoming pregnant due to rape. This violent act ultimately leads not only to the loss of her brother, but also to Abby's dreams of marriage to her first love, her family as a whole, and her life in the only town she knew. With little education, Addy survives harsh times by cooking and cleaning for more than one family in more than one town. Through coincidence or destiny (the listener can decide), she runs into an old acquaintance and marries -- but she tragically loses her second love and second child while still quite young.

While it is hard to listen to these tales of woe, it is even harder to not pop in the next tape as each comes to an end to hear what happens next. Abby is a lady who has lived through more than her share of hard times. As she ages, she talks to the ghosts of her past -- and the number of ghosts increases with the passing years. Many of these ghosts seem to have the same thing to tell her. "Rush home, Addy Shadd. Thou shalt rush home." When she finally does, more than 50 years after her original departure, what will she find? Pick up Rush Home Road and find out.

The author, Lansens, has written several screenplays. As a first novel, this tale demonstrates Lori's ability to write captivating dialogue, which is brought to life by actress Ruby Dee, whose career spans six decades and includes several movies with Sidney Poitier such as A Raisin in the Sun. Ruby has a breathy voice and cannot say more than three or four words before pausing to inhale. This works well for the older characters, but it took at least the first tape for me to accept that little kids talk like this. (I kept thinking of the kid in the wheelchair on Malcom in the Middle.)

If I had one complaint about the way this story is told, it would be that the time frame bounces around too much. While it might add some drama to the story, I was often confused by the constant shifting. The story would have flowed better if Addy's past had been told chronologically. Perhaps it makes more sense in a written format, where you can head each chapter with a date to tell the reader when the action is taking place. With an audiobook, the listener has to pick that up from context. I found this to be a minor distraction as my mind would race to figure out which period in Addy's life I was listening to at the start of each segment.

If you like period pieces and following the hard times of a person's life, this is certainly an audiobook for you. If you enjoy stories that have bittersweet endings that leave you feeling happy and sad, I recommend Rush Home Road. If you like listening to audiobooks that provide subtle social commentary on the way individuals interact in this small world, pop on over to Amazon and pick this book up. I was captivated enough by Rush Home Road that I am curious to see what Lansens writes next.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 3 August 2002

Buy it from Amazon.com.