Road Story is the first novella written by Julienne van Loon, author of Harmless and Beneath the Bloodwood Tree.Road Story won the Australian Vogel Award in 2004. This is a story of friendship and of drug addiction. Eighteen-year old Diana Kooper gets into a car accident with her best friend Nicole. Running away from the car crash, she leaves Nicole behind, slumped and bloodied in the damaged vehicle. She hitches a ride to an isolated community where she takes a job as a kitchen helper at Bob’s, a roadhouse eatery at an isolated truck stop.
Diana soon settles into a kind of mundane routine. What appears to be a humdrum kind of life at the roadhouse soon turns out otherwise. A number of disturbing events leave Diana unsettled. For one, Bob’s dog is brutally killed and left as a warning. Then, Bob disappears mysteriously leaving Diana to look after the roadhouse kitchen all by herself. Faced with daunting challenges every day, Diana has to confront her past in order to get out of her present dilemma.
Road Story is the kind of novella that grips you from the beginning. The first paragraph draws the reader right into the story:
“Diana Kooper is running. She is looking straight ahead through the warm night rain, all silvery in the fluorescent streetlight. The footpath beneath her is so shiny and black it could be liquid … God, how she can run.”
Further, van Loon’s short and sharp sentences quickens the pace of the whole story. I like the way the story is narrated with frequent flashbacks to the protagonist’s past, which keeps readers in suspense as to why and what Diana is running away from.
van Loon does not waste time in glamorising her characters. Both Diana and Nicole are equally hard-headed and strong characters who have flaws like any other person. Despite their flaws, you can’t help but sympathise with them. Since their early teenage years, both girls had been sucked into sex and drug addiction although Diana does appear to be the more sensible one of the two.
I believe to add a little spice to Diana’s mundane life at the roadhouse kitchen, van Loon introduces a trucker named Andy. There are several lovemaking scenes between the couple, which is, of course, not a big deal. What puzzles me, however, is the addition of a vividly described oral sex scene:
“She starts to gently suck and tug, trying to keep her lips wrapped around him tightly and pulling firmly without hurting. She keeps one hand at the base of his cock and the other moves up and down with her mouth. She’s dribbling on him, making him wet… And then as she stops moving back and forth to lap quickly with her tongue at the tip of his foreskin, she feels the creamy white sweetness comes from him and holds it in her mouth for a moment, then releases it. She licks the stickiness slowly off him, feeling again the wonderful smooth tautness of his skin there, the soft, bitter taste of him.”
An entire paragraph consisting of ten sentences is devoted to this scene which I think is unnecessary. It doesn’t appear to have any bearing on the plot or on the characters (unless it’s to indicate Diana’s infatuation with Andy).
I assume, here, van Loon must have edited this passage several times before perfecting it. Under a less skilful writer, this scene would have been written clumsily as it’s never easy to write a good lovemaking scene. Still, I think a sentence or two would have sufficed to indicate such an act is taking place. As the saying goes, “less is more”. This opinion is, of course, subjective.
Despite this drawback, I wasn’t discouraged from reading the novella. This book isn’t meant for teenagers just because the protagonist is a teen. It’s a book for anyone who’s keen to read about the dark side of drug addiction and how it can destroy your life and your relationships (parents with teenagers, too, should take note). No doubt the story is set in a fictional world but fiction often reflects the reality. van Loon’s narrative style makes this book worth reading.