“My message will make sense to those who are willing to listen…who appreciate contradiction, nuance, and who recognize that in life there is rarely black and white, but only shades of gray” (236). Danusha Goska, “Our Unlikely Fusion”
Love on the Road: Twelve Tales of Love and Travel is by definition a collection of “love stories,” but many are not love stories in the conventional sense. They are not fairy tales, and the ‘happily ever afters’ come in many shapes and sizes. The stories included are like love itself — beautiful, diverse, and unexpected. Thoughtfully edited by Sam Tranum and Lois Kapila, the twelve short stories that make up this anthology are not overly sentimental. They are not full of flowery descriptions, the protagonists do not wear rose-colored glasses as they view their circumstances. And, as in life, the happy ending isn’t the main concern. Instead all aspects of experience are given a voice – the beginnings, middles, not-so-happy ends, false starts, non-starts, could-have-beens, should-have-beens, maybe-someday-will-bes.
Love on the Road reiterates what most know to be true: Love comes in different forms, and no one form is more or less important than any other. The stories chosen reflect a multitude of perspectives, a variety of ages, cultures, sexual orientations, and views on life and love. It is thoughtfully constructed; the individual stories interwoven to paint a hazy watercolor of longing, acceptance, and above all, the often times unfortunate human need to connect.
The winners of the contest, chosen from the twelve by a panel of judges, make up the first three stories of the book and set the tone for the rest in their variety: A Parisian love affair that loses its luster when reality seeps in, the platonic love of a friend helping another confront his past, and the bittersweet tale of a perpetual vagabond who aches for something more and believes he has found it in a whimsical tower.
While it didn’t win, one stand-out story for me was “Snail Honey” by Travis Dahlke. Told with heart, strategic language, and a sharp wit, it will have you engrossed, despite its brevity, and laughing aloud. An unlikely romance between grifters peddling a modern-day equivalent of snake oil in the form of store-bought honey poured into mason jars and sold at farmers markets as a nutrient-packed super food. Small-time hustler Lawrence falls for the brains of the operation, an intelligent, matter-of-fact woman who may be conning the con man. And, yet, he still asks his gruff companion, known by the perfectly illustrative moniker Neckbeard, “Do you think she liked me?” (168). After all, even the most worldly confidence man is not exempt from insecurity.
And this uncertainty becomes a common thread tying the unique stories together. In Erika Jung’s “Victor and Pamina,” an exchange student studying in Spain finds herself in a quasi-love triangle with her Spanish boyfriend, Victor, and his Swedish ex-girlfriend/current best friend, Pamina. While Victor and Pamina’s relationship may be platonic in reality, that matters less than how the protagonist perceives it. So, is the story about the love between an exchange student and a local boy, or, as the title may suggest and as it becomes for the protagonist, is it actually the story of Victor and Pamina?
The last tale in the anthology gives the book a sense of finality and perhaps a lesson for the rest of us. In “All That You Forgot to See,” Naima Lynch weaves a story of life without love, as Althea approaches her golden years alone, with only the memory of her best friend Lorraine and an intangible, undefined longing. Regardless, it is unimportant. Hindsight is often only a funhouse mirror perspective to the past. She is unapologetic, and if she has regrets they are interpreted by the reader, likely imploring oneself to see all of the things Althea may have missed.
In “The Girl with the Egg-Shaped Face,” Mohita Nagpal reflects that “love on the road is fragile and short-lived,” but, as the collection suggests, that doesn’t make it any less important. After all, most love stories are not sweeping tales of life-long passion. Love has many shapes and sizes, a variety of life spans and expectancies that are hardly ever what you think. There is no one-size-fits-all love, and there is no love hierarchy that says any one manifestation is more valuable than any other. In the end, the lesson offered by Love on the Road is an important one: Love now; worry later. In the end, all love is on the road. A journey to be traveled, experiences to be had, mistakes to be made, lessons to be learned, stories to tell. The destination is only the ending, and it’s the least important part.
Literary Traveler GIVEAWAY
To win a copy of Love on the Road: Twelve Tales of Love and Travel, “Like” Literary Traveler on Facebook OR Follow us on Twitter. Then, let us know your favorite love story using the hashtag #LiteraryLove. Whether classic or contemporary, it doesn’t matter, we want to hear from you. The contest will remain open until Friday, February 21 when the winner will be chosen at random from all who participate.