That Highway Blue is a debut novel is remarkable. The writing is superb, incredibly controlled and restrained. It tells the story of Anne Marie, a young woman who has been living in a shared house in San Padua since her husband, Cal, left her a few years previously. When he turns up out of the blue one night, disturbing the settled nature of her new life, it sets in motion a series of events that sees them both having to flee north, crammed into a battered old car. The journey forces them to examine their damaged relationship. This road-trip takes them through the dark heart of America, through broken landscapes, desolate and neon-lit, populated by desperate and lonely characters. Is there destination a shot at redemption or merely a gateway to a new life?
I burned through this short novel in a matter of hours. The prose is unpretentious, stripped back and incredibly readable. I found myself caring deeply for the plight of Anne Marie, and yet I understood how her depth of feeling for Cal could leave her vulnerable. The characters – even the secondary ones -are well-formed and recognisable. Since her husband’s abrupt departure, Anne Marie has had to change and grow, and Cal’s return finds him encountering a very different woman to the young girl he abandoned. There are snippets of her childhood dropped into the narrative, colouring her character and hinting at why she fell in love with someone so inherently bad. But through the progress of the story – which, like the prose, is straightforward and simple – we begin to see how her life experiences have enlightened her to her past mistakes and perhaps given her the courage to do this time what’s right.
Highway Blue is a fantastic novel, marking Ailsa McFarlane as a writer to watch out for. I had a great time reading it and I have no hesitation in recommending.