North Carolina Literary Review

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Ultimately, what seems most powerful in the text, just as in Allison’s Bastard, is the power of storytelling – both the stories we tell to others and the ones we tell to ourselves. In Allison’s work, a young girl, a survivor of terrible abuse, uses storytelling and fantasy to mentally protect herself and make it through what is happening to her. In Byrne’s novel, Meena survives the Trail by telling herself stories and listening to the voices of the people from her life as they tell her stories. Ultimately, the framework of the novel is such that telling and remembering stories (and, by extension, the story of our memories) turn out to be the only ways we have of dealing with our pain. But storytelling, like everything in this novel, is a

multifaceted solution, a doubleedged sword. Just as often as it provides a way through trouble, it can also create problems for both the storytellers and the listeners. And it is her ability to look at the multidimensional nature of life that makes this novel so compelling. The novel does so many things right that it’s almost easy to overlook where it feels wrong. For example, given the nuanced subtlety of so much of the book, it’s hard to accept the shotgun approach to symbolism that permeates the text. The most obvious example is Byrne’s use of snakes in this novel. They appear throughout the text in the stories of both Meena and Mariama. It’s true that snakes are often associated, literarily and religiously, with

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lies, and every snake we see in this text represents hidden knowledge or outright lies. But snakes are also symbols of medical knowledge and healing, and this more sophisticated symbology is certainly there as well. In the case of Mariama, a snake represents both an unpleasant truth about her mother and the impetus to journey out into a world that offers an alternate existence. It is both a force that consumes her and the power that strengthens her. For Meena, snakebites that she suffers represent a kind of soulshattering violence and also a truth that, if she gives herself to it, can ultimately set her free. Even the Trail, itself often described as a long snake, has the potential to either devour its inhabitants or

MONICA BYRNE ON STORYTELLING AND VIOLENCE IN THE GIRL IN THE ROAD As she was preparing to write her review of The Girl in the Road, Kathaleen Amende emailed the novel’s author with questions. A few of the questions focused on the role of storytelling and violence wtihin Byrne’s novel, which Amende ultimately explores in her review of the book. What follows is an excerpt from their exchange, edited for clarity and style.

KATHALEEN AMENDE: Meena spends a great deal of her journey talking to people who aren’t there, including people whom she hasn’t seen in years. In many ways, her stories of these people are stories within stories. For Meena, especially after she loses her scroll, stories become even more important. But, in some ways, she also uses the stories and the conversations to keep the truth at bay, since the truth is painful to her. So I’m curious to know how you see the power of storytelling and stories in general.

MONICA BYRNE: I think it’s a human tendency to “narrativize” all experience, though I may do it more than most, especially when traveling in a new place. When traveling, I’m constantly exposed to new stimuli, and it’s both extraordinary and exhausting. Sometimes I’m radically present to what I’m seeing, and sometimes I retreat back into my head. So when Meena’s walking on the Trail, I tried to recreate that dual existence of both being in a radically new space and constantly escaping it – and my favorite methods of escape are reading and reliving the stories of my life, trying to wrest new meaning out of them.

When the big revelation comes, there’s a moment of what I’ll call panic for the reader, but for Meena, this is a moment where her first thought is just that she’s so tired. Ultimately, do you think her lack of anger or panic and her exhaustion stem from this shared experience of violence?

ABOVE RIGHT Monica Byrne at a reading of The Girl in the Road

at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC, 14 June 2014

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