The Lauras Book Cover The Lauras
Sara Taylor
literary fiction,
William Heinemann
(4 Aug. 2016)

I didn’t realise my mother was a person until I was thirteen years old and she pulled me out of bed, put me in the back of her car, and we left home and my dad with no explanations. I thought that Ma was all that she was and all that she had ever wanted to be. I was wrong.

As we made our way from Virginia to California, returning to the places where she’d lived as a child in foster care and as a teenager on the run, repaying debts and keeping promises, I learned who she was in her life-before-me and the secrets she had kept – even from herself. But when life on the road began to feel normal I couldn’t forget the home we’d left behind, couldn’t deny that, just like my mother, I too had unfinished business.

This enigmatic pilgrimage takes them back to various stages of Alex’s mother’s life, each new state prompting stories and secrets. Together they trace back through a life of struggle and adventure to put to rest unfinished business, to heal old wounds and to search out lost friends. This is an extraordinary story of a life; a stunning exploration of identity and an authentic study of the relationship between a mother and her child.

The Lauras is the new novel from the exceptionally gifted author of The Shore, which was long listed for the Baileys Women’s Fiction Prize and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.

A slow burn of a story as Ma’s story of the role played by the Lauras in her wanderings come to light.

The story is told retrospectively though  Alex’s remembrances some 30 years after the events. Alex was 13 when the story starts, 16 when it ends, and we gradually learn about the important happenings that have caused Ma to set out now, across the USA by car, with all their belongings in the trunk.

We learn of Ma’s grandparents and parents and their problems and how that affected her. We learn of her feet that have always wanted to wander – as do Alex’s – since  she was a small child, and the many attempts she made to set off into the far blue yonder. And how she encountered the Lauras along the way.

We also discover that Ma’s sexual preferences have been confused since she was young – or perhaps she was bi-sexual – and that Alex prefers not to identify with any gender ( not trans, but rather no gender preference).

I was initially inclined to give this road trip novel a 5 star ranking but then decided 4 was more appropriate. Why didn’t Alex make more of a fuss when forced to eat granola all the time rather than real food, or be hungry, cold and dirty without proper toilets and without a bed?  My own experiences of bringing up both a teenage boy and girl is that the boy was always hungry and a bear when not fed, and the girl needed comfort and proper bathroom. So neither would like a 3 year long road trip! So Alex comes over as rather an improbable character.

That said, I liked the writing style and the slow unfolding of Ma’s stories and life experiences.

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