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Book review: Fate and faith play footsie on a voyage to the American prairies

An epic adventure — with cowboy-filled cattle ranches, wild open prairies, and even hot priests

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The characters navigate Native American memorial parks, cowboy-filled cattle ranches and wild open prairies

The characters navigate Native American memorial parks, cowboy-filled cattle ranches and wild open prairies

The characters navigate Native American memorial parks, cowboy-filled cattle ranches and wild open prairies

Journey to the Heartland

Michelle Walsh Jackson, Novel Press, €13.99

Travel journalist Roz Walters is assigned a feature which will take her to Oklahoma. She decides to bring her father, Patrick, on this epic adventure — and we join the pair as they navigate Native America Indian memorial parks, cowboy-filled cattle ranches and wild open prairies.

But not before the father and daughter team encounter a “hot priest” on the transatlantic flight. (More of that anon).

Patrick is visually impaired and although he cannot see the amazing sights, he has his own take on their surroundings.

He is informed by the wonderful smells and sounds of nature, as Patrick no longer relies on sight as his primary sense. “He could hear sounds that he hadn’t before his sight left him.”

Roz’s father makes the most of this journey, riding a horse for the first time in decades and throwing himself into the historical details of the area.

Roz is more contemplative, recently divorced and learning to find her own voice after years of bullying from her ex-husband. She has left her teenage daughter in Oxford, with a friend, and the guilt lingers. (There is an unresolved sub-plot here).

But before long, Roz and Patrick find their rhythm and the travels become more meditative than expected.

A chance encounter sees the return of Fr Michael. What are the odds?

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As Patrick is a firm believer in fate – and faith – this meeting seems to be part of Roz’s destiny. The attraction is instant — but is it enough to break Michael’s vows?

No spoilers here. Hot Priest resumes his visit to his sister’s house while Roz and Patrick continue their journey through the heartlands.

There are informative passages about the places they visit (and frequent mentions of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath). Walsh Jackson has an obvious love of travel and this shows in her descriptive prose.

The colloquial dialogue is often jarring and detracts from the flow of the narrative, as do the sweeping philosophical discussions which Roz and her father have, called “lessons”.

As the journey ends, Roz feels all the better for it: “I’d learned about the nature of spirit first-hand… This trip had a sense of predestination about it and we were meeting the perfect people on each leg of our journey to discover more about ourselves and those in the world we shared.”

Roz’s voyage provides potent reminders too about the importance of familial love.

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