In 2014, Andra Watkins published her first book, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis, about Lewis' ghost's attempt to redeem his soul. In order to publicize her book, Watkins decides to make the the journey Lewis' ghost takes in the book, mirroring the actual final journey Lewis made before his still debated death on the Natchez Trace. The Natchez Trace Parkway is a paved drive through history and beautiful scenery stretching from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. The Trace is a part of the United States National Park Service and walking it was the perfect tie-in to Watkins' book. Since it is roughly 444 miles long, she decided to walk it in 15 mile increments and she needed someone who could take off the month or so it would take her to complete this personal journey. Striking out with everyone she would have liked to have accompany her, she was left, rather reluctantly, with her 80 year old father, Roy, his noisy sleep apnea machine, his garrulous story telling, his intestinal upsets, and their fraught relationship.
This long walk was not just a way to publicize Watkins' book, it also became a way for her to repair her long damaged relationship with her father. She tells not only of her experiences walking the Trace, her battered and bloodied feet, the dangerous traffic whizzing past her unseeing and unhampered by the presence of rangers (she walked during the government shut-down), the nature she encountered, and the moments of grace she experienced, but she also tells of two strong personalities in conflict with each other learning once again to listen to the other and to show love. As her dad picks her up every day after her 15 miles, she comes to understand what drives him a little better and to forgive him for things large and small. She wearily signs copies of the books he sells to almost everyone he meets along the way. She endures his gregarious tale telling, for the umpteenth time. And she faces all the difficulties and conflicts she has ever had with her father, finding the grace to set them aside and to love him for the man he is while he is still around for her to appreciate.
The book is mainly Andra's tale but there are occasional chapters of anecdotes from Roy's imagined point of view or in his voice. These worked less well than the main narrative, in some cases because snippets of the tale contained within had already been partially shared in Andra's portion and in other cases because they revealed more of what Andra wanted from her father than anything and that would have been better served in her portions of the narration. The gradual shift in Andra's thinking about her dad, from being maddened by him and wanting to quit walking so she doesn't have to stay with him to accepting his foibles, recognizing his mortality, and seeing the undercover way he does truly care and worry for her (and she for him) is lovely. This book and the experience that spawned it is a gift to both her father and to herself.
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Pump Up Your Book and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.