First things first. I LOVED this book. I devoured all 717 of its pages. In fact, I listed it here as one of my favorite books read in 2009. I had never heard of this book or this story until a girl in my book club suggested we read it last year. We had decided it was time for non-fiction and she piped up to say that her best friend had been trying to get her to read this book about two girls from Yale who decide to ride their bike across the country in the 70’s. They begin in CA and by the time they get to Oregon, the bike adventure is over. While camping overnight, they are run over by a truck and attacked by a man with an axe. They both survive. It was one hell of a suggestion. I was totally in. A women’s adventure story that involves attempted murder and a bike trip across the country? Don’t think I’ll be missing that one.
I should start off my saying that my wife rode her bike across the country after graduation from medical school. Of course, she did it more than 30 years after Terri Jentz and she went with an organized group and was fully supported the whole way. Probably bc I have heard the stories of what that was like and all that was involved, I was blown away by the idea that 2 girls who weren’t really all that athletic (they didn’t train for the trip – wha???), set out to do this ALL ALONE and with essentially bikes, a couple of changes of clothes, cash and a map. Good lord. And their parents LET them???!! Oh Bean, please don’t terrorize us in this way.
The bravado of these girls sucked me in from the start. So many questions about the how and the why and who these girls really were, along the lines of “What would posses a person to do something this nutty?”. The early part of the book sets all of this up nicely and by page 94 the attack has already happened. What follows is the account of a woman going back to excavate the trauma she experienced as a girl. It is not only the story of the author, but also the story of Oregon and the American West, the story of social changes afoot in the late 70’s and a story that explores the nature of evil. The book considers the nature of memory and how it is shaped by trauma. In case I haven’t made this clear, you’ve gotta read it. It will not disappoint.
If you like to a little research before committing to a book that has more than 700 pages, I’ll include some links: