on November 30, 2010
Old Border Road has exceptional descriptions of characters, situations, and Arizona scenery. The characters are unique, and the storyline is appealing.
The main character, Katherine, lives with her in-laws in southern Arizona and must work with them in their everyday routine of keeping up their ranch while her husband is habitually absent at night. Katherine has to work hard, deal with unhappiness, deal with loneliness, and with THE KNOWING. As time goes on, could her second thoughts as she walked down the aisle as a seventeen-year-old bride have been an omen for her life's path?
Katherine....aka as "Girl" learns how to rope cattle, ride horses, make dinners, repair clothing, and cope with a drought plaguing Arizona. All characters mesh well together even though they are distinct in their own ways.
Ms. Froderberg's style is splendid...her beautiful prose reels you into the tale and allows you to become absorbed in the lives of Girl, Son, and Rose's Daddy.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book...it is one you will want to read as well. 5/5
A dry, hot and dusty tale of young love.
Old Border Road is about a headstrong and very young bride newly wed into a prosperous desert family. People are archetypes. Her husband is called Son. Son's father, father also of Rose, is called Rose's Daddy and by no other name. All of the elders speak in poetic, sometimes biblical or even prophetic language. The author's voice twists and bends language poetically to make you think about the meaning behind the surface of the words. The locale is unspecified but clearly resonates with the landscape near Yuma, Arizona. The heat is palpable. You can feel the grit of the sand and dust in your throat.
The rodeo is coming and our protagonist is being groomed to ride in the barrel race. Her husband is a philandering louse. She is nurtured by her in-laws, but not by either of her parents. Much grief comes to the elders in this dark tale of financial ruin, natural disaster, death, crippling injury and adulterous betrayal. Water and water rights, drought and endless searing heat are as much characters as the people.
This manner of writing requires close attention. Words are used in unusual ways. What the characters say needs attention, especially the difference between what is found on the page and what is commonly spoken or written. I found the language more appropriate to a more disturbed protagonist than our clearly intelligent and more or less rational girl bride. She is both mentally healthy and mentally tough. Her voice is stream of consciousness with a twist, partaking of an innocent perception of terrible events.
There is a fairly straightforward plot. I wanted to find out what was happening next and how the characters would respond to their changing circumstances. I came to care for the protagonist and those elders who cared for her. The poetic and challenging language gave a powerful sense of place, but made following the plot more of a chore. I look forward to more from this obviously talented writer.
Rarely does a reader encounter a novel like Susan Froderberg's "Old Border Road." A story and prose that read like an epic poem; a cascade of tragedies and natural disaster impacting the characters' lives, and the finality of an ethical choice - all combine in a thought provoking totality to capture the reader's attention and to remain with the reader long after the book has been closed for the final time.
Froderberg's use of language and the rhythmic tempo of her prose are rare in current literature. She weaves the words of this novel's text as deftly as any author can. Her character development is nearly flawless. Her ability to humanize even unlikeable individuals and make them recognizable to readers is outstanding.
Imagery is employed with subtlety; it further enhances the overall novel's story. For example, in one of the opening scenes Katherine notices a stain on the skirt of her wedding dress. Told to cover it up by holding her flowers over it, she does so. Thus, her dress appears perfect to outside observers. This foreshadows the stains of infidelity that will occur in her marriage and the advice she receives to accept the betrayal - to hide her pain from others.
Further, Froderberg uses a lack of words and characters' names so that the reader gains an even more complete picture of the individuals that people the pages of "Old Border Road." As her life progresses, Katherine becomes "Girl" to her father-in-law - losing her own identity and sense of self. Her husband is referred to as "Son" - he is never accorded the status of an adult by his parents; nor does he ever act as an adult anywhere throughout the novel. Only those individuals who show their humanity or strength of character - Rose, Katherine's mother-in-law; Pearl Hart, the free-spirited rancher; Ham, Pearl's more-than-understanding husband; and Hartry, the hired man - are accorded the honor of being identified by their given names in "Old Border Road." And, it is only in the end, when she faces a tragedy and accepts its burden, when she makes the choice to do what is "right" rather than what is expedient, that "Girl" reclaims her identity as Katherine.
"Old Border Road" is one of the finest, most intelligent books I have been privileged to read. Its story is one of betrayal, tragedy, and ultimate triumph of the human spirit. If you are looking for a thought-provoking novel, one that grabs you and never lets you go, then I highly recommend "Old Border Road." I only hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
on January 16, 2012
This is a very unusual novel written in a first person narrative style that I, an avid reader, cannot recall having experienced before. Anyone who likes a straight-forward easy-to-read style will undoubtedly not enjoy this novel which, in my opinion, will be a loss to that reader. I had no idea that so many adjectives could be turned into verbs! And I loved it.
Having said that, I admit that I didn't read this straight through without having another novel to read at the same time. In other words, I could only deal with a few pages at a time.
The bookcover says that the scenery--the place--is "more than a backdrop--it informs what happens" as indeed it does. I would never ever want to even visit a place that is as sterile as this one in Arizona.
The story itself is told by Katherine who early on in the novel makes an unfortunate decision to marry Son. I don't recall that we ever actually know Son's actual name any more than we know his father's name: Rose's Daddy. Rose is Rose's Daddy's wife. They own a large tract of land on which his parents constructed an adobe house. And that is where most of the novel takes place as it moves from prosperity to... Well, I am not going to give that away. But I will say this: I have never read a novel in which the horrors of a drought are as thoroughly explored in images. Wow!
Susan Froderberg knows a lot about water issues, about horses, about that part of the world including its history. And it is brilliantly woven into this truly brilliantly conceived and written novel.
At first I was charmed with the poetic descriptions that seemed to weight each paragraph with meaning. I enjoyed the descriptions and assumed this was an introductory technique that would set a tone for the rest of the book. However, 40 pages in I found that the "introductory" technique was still there. Flipping ahead, I saw that it remained for the entire book. But I trudged on further, hoping I would get into the rhythm of this writer. Unfortunately, it didn't happen.
As another reviewer mentioned, this writer's language "threatens to choke the narrative"; for me, it did. I didn't so much mind reading a paragraph here and there, like I might dip into a book of poetry, but trying to feign interest in the narrative as I hurdled the sentences that were thrown at me became too much. A quarter into the book, I still wasn't sure where this story was going, who the main character really was, and why I should care. I did collect some carefully wrought images as I read, but they merely flickered like someone's old silent home movies.
This writer has promise and I'll look for her next book to see if she has balanced her descriptions with narrative, but for now this will be one of the books I leave unfinished...at least for now.
Susan Froderberg's OLD BORDER ROAD turned out to be a gorgeous, multi-layered gem of a novel. Whiffs of Cormac McCarthy's trilogy style abound, but I see far more traces of other authors here, particularly Marilynne Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING style. The title resonates with its timeless Old Testament kicked-out-of-paradise motifs.
Her epigraph is from Plato:
"What is that which is and has no becoming
And what is that which is becoming and never is?
In an on-line interview at BookPage, she acknowledges her influences:
Are there any particular authors who inspire you or that you feel have had a notable impact on your own writing?
"Certainly Schopenhauer, as I mentioned earlier. And absolutely Emerson. Add to the list Frost and Stevens, Joyce and Beckett, O'Conner and Robinson, among others. To my mind, there is no greater American writer alive than Cormac McCarthy. All of us, as writers--as artists--come out of some Petri dish, and I will admit to coming out of his. There is no such thing as the innocent eye, or the innocent ear, no matter what anybody tells you. On the other hand, we are each of us necessarily what no one else can possibly be."
Do you find your philosophy background has enriched your writing?
"Probably, as the opportunity to study philosophy has enriched my life. But I'm happier being a writer than I would have been if I were doing philosophy work, as writing has set me free in a way that philosophy--specifically, Western philosophy--could not have. For in Western philosophy you must follow formal logic--if A, then not B. In fiction, you may have both A and B, if you so choose. You can be exhausted and you can be exhilarated at the same time: one state need not negate the other. Or you can be derived and you can be unique, without contradiction. This is not to say we can do away with logic: there would be no language without it. But in writing, it's possible to bend language toward a more Eastern way of thinking."
Plato's thought, that follows from the epigraph of the book, is: "There are forms that have always existed, forms that are pure and immutable and eternal; they are and they never become. All that follow are composite and ephemeral and mutable; they become but they never are."
When reading OLD BORDER ROAD again today with my critical "I," I can't help but keep that in mind. This novel strikes me as the real thing; it did so the first time through, and more so now. I'm a bit intoxicated with it; trying to read it again slowly without gushing too much about it, wanting to give it distance and perspective.
OLD BORDER ROAD often has sections of McCarthy-like cadence but it is at the same time very unMcCarthy-like, for it is told in the subjective first-person feminine. That feminine voice is like the feminine voice of the protagonist in TRUE GRIT in that the teller puts her own rhetorical style into the words of the other characters in her narrative. This may be off-putting to some readers, but I looked forward to it, especially since the rhetorical style here is sometimes a deep-dish Old Testament Cormac McCarthy. Sometimes the voice rises up to the Eternal Feminine, seeing form above the composite and ephemeral and mutable:
"We step outside the rented tent into the greater tent of a tinseled, starlit night. Above our heads is a spread of lost heroes and creatures of make-believe, a spiral of spiraling galaxies, a curtaining glow of aurora, a soffit of planets and stars. In skies to come, there will be more and different views and still but a speck of all there is, wombed inside this universe as we are, with our vision so hindered."
On another night, about form, she says:
"The night is filled brimful as a night sky can be, lit brightly as it is with clusters of planets and pulsating stars and marriages of galaxies, all of it within a wobble of dust and gas and debris unseen. There are the Dippers Little and Big tonight, a lovely Pleiades, and a throbbing red star out like a tiny heart. This is the stuff of which we are made, I say to Son, all that is of us is above us. We stand together looking upward, our mouths hung open as if to swallow what's above down and into us. Looking out at the past in its far distance, where from there, here we are not."
The protagonist tells us that her favorite subject in school was astronomy, and throughout the novel the heavenly movement and its cosmic significance reminds us of Cormac McCarthy's sky in BLOOD MERIDIAN.
Susan Froderberg is no kid; she is very well read, has a doctorate and enough life experience to go on; and this novel is an assured piece of work. To put it in better perspective, I read again, not McCarthy, but Pam Houston's COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS, another underestimated gem which is also a parable of archetypes and male/female relationships.
Susan Froderberg's protagonist listens to the radio: "We sing along to what songs have always been about--beginning, going on, breaking up, forgiving."
Pam Houston's protagonist says: "I listened to country music all the way to Cody, Wyoming. The men in the songs were all either brutal or inexpressive and always sorry later. The women were victims, every one." She then determines to step out of the pattern through an act of free will (some might call it self-realization), something that resonates with the end of Froderberg's novel.
Everything cycles, turn, turn, turn. Birth, growth, death, and rebirth. Froderberg's protagonist, Katherine, wants to hold on to things, but her world is not made that way. She says: "We keep on going on, believing, I suppose, only in the going-on in us."
There is much more to be found in here. A synopsis of the novel makes it seem far too simple and, as I say, I think that the reviews underestimate its considerable depth. If you love this one as much as I do, you might also like Marilynne Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING, Pam Houston's COWBOYS ARE MY WEAKNESS, or Claire Davis's WINTER RANGE, though it would be difficult to find a match for Froderberg's beautiful style.