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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson 3.5 starsOkay, first things first:I don’t mean to get all “that’s not a knife, this is a knife!”* on you, dear friends, but can I just say this? California is not a big state. Colorado is not a big state. Western Australia is a big state. Heck, even Queensland is a big state. Seriously though and before I get things chucked at me, I liked this book. I admit that when I picked it up, I had a moment of trepidation. It seems I’ve been reading a lot of slight (size-wise, not subject wise), sparsely written novels lately, so the sheer density of words and pages of Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour (AARED) had me briefly taken aback. Then I gave myself a firm talking to and told myself to woman up, because clearly I’m never going to get through Anna Karenina with that kind of word-count anxiety.But back to Amy and Roger. Publisher’s Weekly proclaims this a “near perfect summer read.” That’s a pretty big call, but once I got over my initial, “What, there’s more than 200 pages?” shock, I found myself agreeing somewhat with this statement. Beyond the initial chapters, where I had to settle into the backward and forwards shifts in time of Amy’s narrative, it was compulsively readable and entertaining. (And that’s not just my undying love of playlists speaking.) Without discrediting the quality of the writing, AARED is definitely a holiday kind of book, something to get lost in for a few hours. While I’d classify this as “light” read, it is by no means shallow and takes on some complex subjects, including the effects of grief on a family dynamic, though with varying degrees of success. And it appears that I really can’t resist a road trip story.As other reviewers have mentioned, I agree that this is the kind of novel that would make a great movie. It just has that escapist sort of feeling (yes, I really said that in reference to a road-trip book). Two characters with more in the way of baggage than just a few suitcases, the confined space of a car, a series of quirky and comical road trip vignettes, an “oh-look-there’s-only-one-bed-and-there’s-two-of-us” scenario or two, musical references – it’s basically a recipe for a road movie. I found the characters likeable, albeit occasionally wilfully blind, and their on-page chemistry was engaging enough to keep me interested in their story. It’s definitely more sweet-and-slow chemistry though, as opposed to “someone-throw-some-water-on-me, quick!” chemistry, which actually makes sense, given the emotional state of each character. The novel is peppered with visual aids to accompany the story – handwritten playlists, excerpts from Amy’s travel journal, receipts, postcards and snapshots. They’re a fun addition, but Matson’s writing is also quite capable of standing on its own merits. Her style captures Amy – a deeply thoughtful, though not particularly verbose person – and her process of internalising everything, well.Where this story fell down for me was in terms of the grief plotline. Obviously, this is vital to the story and Amy’s character arc, and theoretically I had no issues with its inclusion and the way it was written. It’s just that grief stories either work for me, or they don’t. And it’s nothing more than a personal issue – sometimes I connect to the way its written and sometimes I don’t. In this case, I have to say I really didn’t. That’s not to say that there aren’t some poignant and sincere moments in terms of the way Amy deals with her father’s death. The flashback to the night after the funeral, and Amy’s experience with Michael, was particularly searing to read. But otherwise, I didn’t find myself completely invested in this part of the story, and I found it hard to accept that Amy’s feelings of guilt dissolved in such a speedy manner.. I’m sure it will strike a chord with some readers though – and Matson handles with issue with care and respect.Finally, a word about that title. While I can’t deny that it’s on-trend, and that the word “epic” has taken on a slightly altered role in our modern vernacular, I can’t help but wonder how it’s going to date, in say, 10 years time. Will it be as cringe worthy as picking up a book now called: “Reynje’s Gnarly BMX Journey” or “Reynje’s & Ronald’s Rad Roadtrip”? (Actually, scrap that last one, I say “rad” all the time. Not going to deny it.)And now I want to jump in a car, crank up the ipod and drive to Cairns or something. Who’s with me?*And I hereby promise never to quote that movie at you again. *looks sheepish* I’m sorry. I’m also sorry for the ridiculous number of parentheses and quotation marks in this review. I have no excuse.