8 Road Trip Novels for People Who Want to Travel Without Leaving the House
Let them drive so you don’t have to
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I f you’re anything like me, the idea of spending hours upon hours in small metal box on wheels with either too much or too little AC does not sound like a good time. Personally, I feel carsick after fifteen minutes on the subway to work. Don’t even ask about a week long tour of scenic cornfields in the American Northwest. “But you have to road trip at least once in your life,” say my college buddies who don’t have licenses and want me to be the second driver on a speed run to Disney World. And to that I say: I have been on road trips, plenty of them. In my opinion, a vicarious road trip from the comfort of my couch is the the best road trip. Here are eight road trip novels worth a weekend at home.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Written in 1957, the daddy of all road trip novels traces a trip that took Kerouac and his friends across the U.S. This roman à clef features lightly fictionalized versions of some of the best known figures of the Beat generation — Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, William S. Burroughs, and especially Jack Kerouac himself as the narrator Sal Paradise. Paradise makes his way through major cities across the country and comes into contact with the emerging rhythms of late twentieth century America: jazz culture, questions of gender and sexual identity, poverty crises, and the duality of loneliness with freedom on an open road.
America For Beginners by Leah Franqui
Pival Sengupta books a trip with the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company, but the only sight she wants to see is the face of her long lost son. For a year, Pival believed him to be dead — as she was told by her traditionalist husband, who could not bare the shame of a gay son. With her husband gone now too, Pival lands in New York and embarks a surprisingly challenging trek from East Coast to West, learning about the radically different country that became her son’s home and hoping that along with forging new bonds she can mend the one she lost a year ago.
The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang
Rich businessman Charles Wang goes from having more money than he knows what to do with to losing his home, all but one of his cars, and his apparently tenuous grasp on the American Dream. With no money and no better options, Wang packs up his two children and their stepmother on a road trip from Bel-Air to his eldest child’s home in upstate New York. Rather than breaking the family apart, this financial catastrophe brings them closer together in a tale about defying stereotypes, navigating displacement, and discovering the meaning of “home.” In an interview with Electric Lit, Jade Chang considered her debut novel “an immigrant novel that gave the big middle finger to the traditional immigrant novel that we see in America.”
Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed
Call it reckless, call it insane, but at 22 years old Cheryl Strayed had a backpack and nothing tying her to home. With her mother recently deceased and her marriage wrecked, Cheryl jumped on the wildest impulse she had: a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. (It’s still a road trip! Nobody said you had to be driving.) This trip would drag her through extreme weather and past deadly creatures, from the Mojave Desert in California, to Oregon, and all the way up to Washington state. It may have been dangerous, but this trip gave Cheryl the fears, pleasures, and ultimately the experiences that would heal her of past pains and teach her to survive.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
A classic from the 1930s, As I lay Dying follows the Bundren family in a wild stream of consciousness ride to deliver their dead mother’s corpse to her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. As the July heat rots Addie Bundren in her coffin, the members of an already dysfunctional family spiral further into their own distinct brands of madness, exposing the baseness, or even at times nobility, that lies beneath the flesh. This twisted novel delves into the struggles of grief, the conflicts of familial identity, and the strange parallels between birth and death that will leave you disturbed the next time you lie down to sleep.
Flaming Iguanas by Erika Lopez
This self-described “Illustrated All-Girl Road Novel Thing” is the first in Lopez’s Mad Dog Rodriguez trilogy. Jolene “Tomato” Rodriguez hops on her motorcycle for a cross country trip from New Jersey to San Francisco in search of who knows what: love, the meaning of life, a post office? This hilariously written novel is a quick read filled great art, attitude, and quotable moments about female sexuality and wacky shenanigans. What’s not to love about punk rock women with roaring bikes?
Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Hitchhiking hasn’t been a good idea since the ’70s, but that doesn’t stop Isserley, a female driver on the Scottish Highlands, from picking up men in need of a ride. On the road, she lends a sympathetic ear to their woes and gently questions them about loved ones before knocking the innocent hitchhikers out with drugs and shipping her soon-to-be-processed food stock off to her home world. As a professional alien abductor, Isserley takes her job very seriously, which as you can guess becomes complicated when she begins to view humans less like sheep and more like her own people. Alien or not, we all deal with class divide, process beauty, and love our families in the same way. Under the Skin depicts some of the least alien aliens you’ll ever see.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Written by the author who we all thought died but didn’t, The Road takes place after an apocalyptic event leaves humanity near extinct, and an unnamed father and son traverse a now barren America in an attempt to survive the coming winter. As is with most apocalyptic tales these days, the greatest threat to the pair’s survival is not wild animals or the lack of wifi, but the few other humans also roaming the roads. Between cannibals, thieves, and families just as desperate as the father and son themselves, only the unfounded hope of “something better” at the end of the journey keeps them going down their path. There is nothing like a treacherous trip through a post-apocalyptic dystopian America to wreck your faith in humanity.