My blogging buddies are walking. Tori at The Ramblings and Lisa from Woman Wielding Words are joining Andra Watkins (The Accidental Cootchie Mama) on the Natchez Trace. Andra has spent the month walking the 444 mile Trace to promote her book: To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis.
Yes, that’s the Lewis from Lewis and Clark. He died, under questionable circumstances, along the Natchez Trace. Andra’s book is an engaging character study in a genre that defies description. In some ways it’s a historical novel, given the main character of Meriwether Lewis and a few guest appearances from people who could be his contemporaries. In flashbacks we learn about the parts of Lewis’ story that don’t get as much attention in grade school.
Much of the motivation of the story comes from what happened to Lewis after the expedition that put him in our history books. He was made governor of the Louisiana Territory, replacing a career politician who wasn’t happy about losing his post. A desk job didn’t suit him as well as leading an adventure into the wilderness.
In some ways this book is a ghost story. It is set in 1977 and Meriwether Lewis is sent back to “make things right.” The afterlife mythos is curious and complicated. Meriwether truly believes that because his death was deemed suicide he is forgotten by history. He was traveling the Trace in part to take his journals from the expedition to a publisher, but he never made it. But there is also a mission, something he is sent back to do. It seems he is destined to intervene in the life of a little girl.
Em is a plucky and precocious young girl. A native of New Orleans, her parents were recently divorced and her father forbidden to contact her. He’s a musician and Em’s hero. Her mother is not a nice person. She’s running a brothel and has essentially sold Em off for her divorce. When Em learns her mother’s plans for her future she becomes determined to find her father who has moved to Nashville. Running away she literally runs into Lewis and the partnership is formed.
The Natchez Trace runs from the Mississippi river in Natchez to Nashville. It was an important trade route, It aided the western expansion, it was a supply line during the 1812 war and it was a road familiar to Meriwether Lewis. Em and Lewis making their way along the Trace is the setting for the bulk of the story. It’s a road trip adventure novel.
I really enjoyed the book and I don’t care that it doesn’t fit neatly into a single genre. Andra’s writing style is clear and witty and well crafted. Her research into Meriwether Lewis and the history of the Trace is apparent but not intrusive. The pencil sketch illustrations by Helen Rice are beautiful and very reminiscent of the kind of sketches Lewis made in his own journals. I highly recommend it.
Oh, and if you get a chance get out and take a walk. I’ve threatened to take a walk in solidarity. Andra is going 15 miles a day and has been for a month. Tori and Lisa are going to do what they can, but don’t really expect to make it half way. I’ll be lucky to make it to the mailbox, but we do what we can. Have a great week!