Rush Home Road

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Certain novels recall fairy tales. Their heroes are banished, repeatedly challenged, until finally, foes vanquished, they make their triumphant homecoming. Though it opens in 1978 in a Chatham, Ontario, trailer park, Lansens's poignant debut is just such a novel. At its heart is Adelaide Shadd, a 70-year-old black woman who takes in five-year-old Sharla Cody when Sharla's "white trash" mother abandons her. As Addy turns Sharla from a malnourished, heedless child into a healthy, thoughtful girl, she recollects her own past. Addy grew up in Rusholme, a fictional cousin to the many Ontario communities founded by fugitive slaves brought north by the Underground Railroad. By 1908, when Addy is born, Rusholme is settled almost entirely by black farmers and is close to idyllic. But a rape and subsequent pregnancy force Addy to run away from Rusholme (she thinks of it as a command: "Rush home"), not to return for many years. Addy's life her marriage, her children, her journey to Detroit and back to Canada is the rich core of a novel also laden with history: Lansens manages to work in not only the Railroad, but also Prohibition and the Pullman porter movement. This is artfully done, but Lansens doesn't handle the novel's smaller scenes quite as well: she tends to drop narrative threads and confuse chronology. Some readers will resent the repeated plucking of their heartstrings, too, given how much Addy and Sharla suffer. Nonetheless, Lansens has created in Addy a truly noble character, not for what she suffered in the past but for what she does in the novel's present. 

As this first novel opens, 70-year-old Addy Shadd is living a peaceful trailer-park existence in the company of down-and-outers like Collette, who leaves her daughter with Addy and then disappears. Five-year-old Sharla is neither lovely nor lovable, and Addy's habit of solitude is hard to break, but as the two outcasts learn to care for each other, they begin healing from the abuse that they have suffered. Memories of Addy's childhood days in Rusholme, a Canadian border town settled by runaway slaves in the 1800s, come rushing back and carry the reader away. Addy recalls intimate details a small brother who died, past lovers, children now gone, and the many people who betrayed her while historical events like the Underground Railroad, the Pullman porter movement, and Prohibition frame her account and reflect some of the hardships suffered by African Americans, even in Canada. Though Addy has led a hard life, her beautiful, gentle spirit, her wise and loving way with Sharla, and an ultimate message of hope redeem the book from melancholy. A beautiful debut; recommended for all public libraries. Jennifer Baker, Seattle P.L.  
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (June 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316008036
  • ASIN: B002QGSWNS
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces

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