‘The Road Home’ by Michael Thomas Ford
Author: Dan Cullinane
October 18, 2010
The reason most accidents occur within five miles of home is that we think we’ve arrived, so we stop paying attention. Michael Thomas Ford explores this paradox in the life of a successful photographer, whose journey home promises astonishing surprises if he can learn to look around.
As promised by the title, The Road Home travels some familiar territory—how can it not?
In his seventh outing as a writer of gay romantic fiction, Ford clearly understands the adage that we don’t care how two people get together, we care about what keeps them apart. We know how we want things to end up, so the savvy writer throws a series of flummoxing obstacles in the path of our expectations and that is what creates the enjoyment.
But just as it is possible to experience an array of new sights on the most familiar path, so it is possible to provide compellingly interesting conflicts to keep us on our toes, and that is what Ford does here. He goes internal for the conflict and because of that, all bets are off.
Burke Crenshaw is deposited in his boyhood bedroom by an ex-lover, who immediately rushes off to find civilization at the nearest Starbucks, to recover from injuries sustained in a car accident. Looking out the window at the Vermont farmland where he grew up, Burke’s despair is palpably familiar.
After creating a life as far away as possible, how is it possible he ended up back at the beginning, dependent upon his father for everything from food to assistance in bathing? For most gay men, this is a scenario we only want to experience in nightmares from which we can safely wake up screaming, but for Burke it leads to a complete re-examination of the way in which he has been living his life.
Burke is one of those guys who has forgotten how to look around. He’s made up his mind who he is, from his career to his friends to his choice of sexual positions, and at the ripe old age of forty, he’s learned everything he needs to know and isn’t looking for anything new—which would be okay if he knew that, but poor Burke considers himself to be both curious and open minded, and Ford has a great deal of fun pointing out ways in which Burke is blind to himself.
His convalescent reading material launches a new photography project that leads him in the direction of an old family mystery, which may also be a ghost story. Aiding him in his search are: Will, the son of his high-school flame, Lucy, his widowed father’s all-but-live-in girlfriend, and Sam, a prickly librarian with an almost autistic insistence on providing an appropriate quote for every situation. Deft use of these characters and situations allows Ford to confront Burke with his previously held convictions, which ultimately topple as his eyes begin to open.
Ford is an unusually varied writer. In his career, he’s tackled (among other things): gay romances such as this, young adult novels about zombies, Jane Austen sendups, sex manuals, and a series of award-winning humor collections. Not surprisingly, his bag of stylistic tricks is endless, and endlessly engaging, and he utilizes them generously here.
His organic dialog both fits the characters and defines them; Lucy and Will in particular sound so authentic, their voices echo in our imagination. From a farm house full of aching silences to a campfire in the woods to a mysterious ghostly pond to a lively lamp-lit dinner party, Burke moves against a series of vividly imagined backgrounds which subtly shift as his perception deepens.
Ford also manages to incorporate an impressive assemblage of references including a radical faerie gathering, one of Walt Whitman’s Calamus poems, an astoundingly interesting how-to of photography developing, humpy gay sex, transgender romance, one of his own books, and my personal favorite, Kenneth Grahame’s luminous Piper at the Gates of Dawn from Wind in the Willows.
It’s a delight to witness a writer’s love of writing come through this powerfully.
In the end, things work out for Burke; that’s not a spoiler, it’s a promise. Just as the road leading home gets us there safely, so does this novel. The joy of the reading is in how the road is transformed for Burke as he realizes that there are so many ways to live a life that it makes no sense to settle on just one.