Nearing the transitional age of fifty, Hawaiian-born author TW Neal embarks on both a physical and emotional journey around the USA’s national parks with Mike, her husband of almost thirty years. This book is more than a straightforward account of their travels, though; along with vivid insights into each spectacular location, the sense of a spiritual odyssey is gradually revealed. This is a journey of self-discovery and the reader is privy to each snippet of revelation that goes into making up the complex (yet totally relatable) jigsaw of Neal’s mind, body and soul. And there is yet another dimension: the process of writing. Neal confides that the great outdoors arms her with the ‘creative fuel’ for her written endeavors. The writer swiftly and naturally evinces the broad canvas of her background. Born in Hawaii to rather ‘bohemian’ parents, Neal grew up with a desire to be ‘normal’. For her, as for most people, normality meant a steady job, marriage, having children, saving money, and all the trappings associated with a conventional life. Normality equated to stability. Neal achieved this – but, of course, it does come at a price. The author speaks of feeling ‘bruised’ following the homicide of one of the young people she helped care for in her capacity as a therapist and counselor. Her profession, while rewarding, was also emotionally exhausting and was taking its toll. Parallel with this, she wrangled with the vicissitudes inherent in any marriage, perhaps more marked when both partners are of a strong-willed disposition. Neal writes whole-heartedly about her love for Mike – and his for her – but makes no secret of the fact that they came close to separation on more than one occasion. All the while, she never loses sight of her lifelong love of writing and has never let it go.
Quite early in the narrative, the reader learns something of what prompted this mammoth trip. An annual physical revealed a whole myriad of burgeoning health-related issues, including her escalating weight and alarming cholesterol levels, persistent outbreaks of hives, and dramatic hair loss. Could this be a by-product of the ‘marathon of overwork and stress’ that had become the author’s life? Compounded by the fact that Mike, eleven years Neal’s senior, had undergone multiple surgeries, it seemed that it was now or never as far as this particular trip was concerned. Perhaps it was time, too, to consider switching career to that of full-time writer. What follows is a life-affirming account of the Neals’ month-long journey of discovery – of themselves, each other and the evocative landscape.
OPEN ROAD is not Neal’s first memoir – indeed, she harks back to her memoir, Freckled, and picks up on threads from her previous story, lending a sense of continuity to her shared insights. This is a writer whose love of the written word shines through, right to the enormously satisfying closing sentence. Will her marriage to Mike survive the challenges of their journey? Will their physical ailments enable them to see it through to the bitter end? These questions are answered – and the coda that is the Epilogue rounds the narrative off in gratifying fashion.
With figurative language masterfully knitted into the prose, TW Neal’s memoir OPEN ROAD invites readers to engage in the writer’s personal journey and become enveloped in a compelling story of growth that has all the elements one might also expect to find in a good work of fiction.
~Amanda Ellison for IndieReader