I'll restrict myself in this 'leeservaring', by mainly summarizing this book. The book says it all.
In this 2013-novel by Ki Longfellow a slightly overweight woman, Mrs. Peter Warner, walks into the Sonoran Desert. She dumps the groceries she has just bought in a trash barrel and without looking back she literally leaves her old life, which she describes as follows:
“Lately you’re so scared and so aimless and so useless you sleep half the day and panic half the night. In between, you watch TV to ward off the evil of watching yourself.”
Initially she is looking for a nice place “preferably with a good view – where she could lie down and fall asleep and never wake up again”. Just like the native Americans do, when they announce: “This is a good day to die”.
Throughout her adventures in the desert her background and motivation become clear. Married to Peter Warner, a marriage way past its expiration date. Two children, a son, Peter jr. whom she doesn’t really like and a daughter Shelley, someone who has taken too many wrong turns in life. Perhaps she can learn from her mother about walking away. Raised as an only child by a senseless mother and a weak but kind father. Attended artschool but was too nice for the world to follow her own dreams. When anyone would ask her how she was doing, she would always say ‘Fine’.
“What else could you say? Who really wants to know? Who really cares? No one is fine. No one’s okay. Life is one small misery after another. Life is like a sculptor. It chips away at you until all that’s left is a headstone.”
After the first night of her escape she decides that she is Molly Anne Brock again. Her engagement ring and wedding ring are discarded and buried.
“At the end, be you.”
Only the dying part isn’t working very well. “If it’s this difficult to die, how hard could it be live?” When it finally appears to be working due to dehydration, it starts to rain. With renewed strength she walks on and stumbles upon an abandoned hut or shed. This is where she meets the donkey who will accompany her for the rest of her quest. She names him Brewster or Brue. In the hut she finds food and nearby a supply of water. She also discovers a collection of pocket novels by the well-known writer of westerns Zane Gray. This turn of events confuses her however.
“The day before yesterday, she wanted to die. Yesterday she wanted to live. Or at least survive. Today she didn’t have the first idea what she wanted.”
Eight days after she walked into the dessert, she finds that something poisonous – a snake perhaps – must have bitten her. She comes down with high fever and almost perishes, but is saved by an old woman who suddenly shows up. It turns out she’s the owner of the hut, the food, the water and the books. Even though she takes care of Molly, she is not very kind towards this intruder. Nevertheless Molly names her Charity. Charity wants Molly out of her datcha as soon as possible. Recovering from this test Molly realizes:
“She was alive. And she liked it.”
As the day pass Molly Brock gets away more and more from Mrs. Peter Warner. She’s losing her overweight and conquers her fears one by one. After a good trade with Charity, she finally leaves this sanctuary with Brewster and a supply of water and food. She has decided that she wants to return home, but she doesn’t know where home is. After some time she finds an abandoned copper mine. Here, at the large building of the copper mine company, she meets Tom, a cowboy, who turns out to be a painter. The place is an artist colony. Tom doesn’t speak much, but he does stimulate her to appreciate who she is. One of his ways of doing this, is by imploring to start to paint again. Which she does.
But once again she walks away together with Brewster; the feminine version of the Saviour. Next she bumps into a statue of Wyatt Earp. It marks the boundary of a huge house where the very old Ray Keene lives with his companions. Molly is invited to stay indefinitely and she celebrates Ray’s 101st birthday. He tells her the story of his life: “You ain’t the only one ever walked away.” He walked away from his profession as a baker and his wife at the time to become an actor. Next he walked away from Hollywood, as far as Australia where he exploited an opal mine and made his fortune. “And now that I am so damnable old, I reckon it’s time to walk away from this life.”
Ray and Molly clearly understand one another and in spite of their age difference, a remarkable love grows between them. Shortly after his 101st birthday Ray holds true to his word and dies. Time for Molly to move on, even though she is most welcome to stay. She has other encounters. One of them is a mini size thriller on its own. But in the end she arrives back home. It is a mess in the house and fortunately her husband isn’t in. Suddenly realization sinks in:
“You’re not home. This isn’t home. It’s never been home. It’s a house. You used to sit in it. You used to watch TV in it. You used to clean it. But you never lived in it.”
And so, she leaves again, with her companion Brewster.
Walks Away Woman is nothing less than a work of genius. It is the quest of a lost person in search for herself. Or more accurate: it is the quest of someone who has realized what she definitely is not. This book no doubt fits in the tradition of symbolic novelists such as Herman Hesse or Paulo Coelho. However, there is a difference. The symbolism in Walks Away Woman is never in the foreground. It is there for those with ears that listen and with eyes that see.
Longfellow’s language is crisp, sharp, funny, modern, emotional and economical; there is not a word that is too much or that is out of place. But above all, the book is packed with wisdom and insight.
In my leeservaring of Shadow Roll I already mentioned that Ki Longfellow is the kind of writer who reinvents herself with each new book. Walks Away Woman is nothing like her previous books with regard to style of story. It offers however, just like her other books, a wonderful reading journey through uncharted territory.
Read in June 2014