Road trip novels revisited Read more on Riffle
Sing, Unburied, Sing: A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
This book comes out on September 5th; the exact anniversary of On the Road. It's a powerful, beautifully-written story about two young children and their black mother; a family broken by addiction and crime, traveling to the Mississippi prison where their white father is about to be released, then traveling back home together. A tough and realistic read despite the spirits of the restless dead as fellow-travelers.
1 / 11
The Lauras: A Novel by Sara Taylor
A mother wakes her teenager in the middle of the night and, leaving her husband and West Virginia behind, they embark upon a road trip through many years and many states, eventually all the way to Canada, as "Ma" reveals her past to her agender child Alex; stopping to visit old friends, make restitution for past acts, and fulfill some promises. It's a coming-of-age journey for Alex while their Ma has one in reverse.
2 / 11
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Every road trip has unexpected mishaps: crummy lodgings, inedible food, cannibals...Trudging through the ruined American wasteland might not be the ideal family vacation, but when life gives you apocalypse, make apocalypse-ade! A father and son journey through horrors, searching for a place to call home in a story of love and hope, family and survival that'll make all of your travel-fatigued squabbling seem trivial.
3 / 11
The Last Days of California by Mary Miller
Road trip to the afterlife! A very unusual story about an evangelical family's journey from their home in Alabama to California, where the second coming is scheduled to take place and the faithful will be raptured up into the heavens. It's also a coming-of-age story of a fifteen-year-old girl experiencing an emotional road trip; meditating on faith, family and the future as she journeys towards uncertainty.
4 / 11
Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress
The funny half of this book involves a woman murdering her husband and traveling to Hollywood to become a star with his head in a Tupperware container on the passenger seat beside her, ditching her six kids with family in Alabama. What’s the unfunny half about? Racism. The coming-of-age story of a 12-year-old boy living in Alabama during George Wallace's Governorship witnessing injustice. See? Murder is much funnier.
5 / 11
Zanesville: A Novel by Kris Saknussemm
A completely whackadoo novel combining satire, SF, adventure, mystery, romance, social commentary and giant sloths in a near-future, post-apocalyptic American road trip tale led by an amnesiac maybe-messiah. Even more manic and surreal than Hunter S. Thompson’s experiences in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, it has been described by its author as "a techno-theological post-American monster vaudeville." 'Nuff said.
6 / 11
The Underground Railroad (Pulitzer Prize Winner) (National Book Award Winner) (Oprah's Book Club): A Novel by Colson Whitehead
An alternate history novel in which the Underground Railroad is represented as a physical train, facilitating escaped slaves on their journeys to freedom through an America profoundly divided by racial issues, where each stop on the train’s route reveals a different expression of racism and inequality, from the overt to the insidious.
7 / 11
Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson
This book contains both physical and cultural road trips, but above all, it’s a complete mind trip involving the appearance of the Twin Towers in South Dakota twenty years after their fall, the manifestation of Elvis’ stillborn twin brother all grown up, and an uncharted highway extending between the coasts in an examination of American Identity viewed through a kaleidoscope of pop culture, history, and "what-ifs."
8 / 11
The Brotherhood of the Wheel: A Novel by R. S. Belcher
Not a road trip novel per se, but this one's too clever in concept to omit, and it's road trip-adjacent: a dark urban fantasy featuring an ancient order of knights known as the Brotherhood of the Wheel, entrusted with protecting travelers on the roads. Their intervention would have been appreciated in most of the other books on this list, but they have their hands full here with the ghosts and serial killers and all.
9 / 11
The Year of the Hare: A Novel by Arto Paasilinna
I'd planned to confine this list to the American Road Trip experience, for maximum On the Roadishness, but this novel was too charming to omit: a Finnish photojournalist hits a hare with his car while on assignment and abandons his entire life on the spot, nursing the injured animal back to health and making a companion of him as they wander across Finland having adventures; a mid-life crisis made adorable.
10 / 11
On the Road (Penguin 20th Century Classics) by Jack Kerouac
Happy birthday, On the Road! You don't look a day over fifty!
11 / 11