A caveat for my first review of the year is that I am not usually drawn to memoirs of individuals indulging in protracted travels in order to ‘find themselves’. But I had heard good things about Wish You Were Here (Affirm Press, 2017, written by film-maker and presenter Sheridan Jobbins), and so I began my year with a memoir about…a woman travelling across America to find herself.
Australian Sheridan Jobbins was distraught by the end of her 11-year marriage. She and her husband (delightfully named ‘Pig’), soldiered on through years of failed IVF attempts and accompanying disappointment and dashed hopes. When it finally – irreparably – ended, she went slightly mad, smashing every piece of crockery she owned. Then she borrowed money, went to America, and bought a shiny red car (a 1989 Chevy Camaro…’a car favoured in certain quarters for gangland massacres’) and set about finding herself, or at least to drive across the country while trying. What follows is a self-deprecating, often funny, often moving account of the people she met, the landscapes she viewed, the experiences she had and the one very special man she encountered who would heal her heart and soothe her ‘inner crazy lady’.
This book is a strange hybrid of hilarity and tears. The most touching chapters are when Sheridan opens up and allows her emotions to flood the pages, her feelings about her IVF journey, her romances, her family, her friends. But this is tempered by her straight-talking, feisty attitude, her no-nonsense approach to said family and friends, and her ‘Thelma and Louise’ approach to the whole jaunt. She laughs most heartily at herself, and the funniest scenes are of her own ineptitude or bumbling incompetence, about which she is endearingly honest and frank. But despite her flaws in some areas, she makes up for them in sheer enthusiasm and persistence in others. She is determined to live this dream – of driving across America in one hell of a hot car – and she is determined to do it in style. Along the way, she makes friends with strangers (and annoys others), she tests the limits of herself, and she makes some decisions and choices about what she wants out of life.
Just when you are about to label the story one thing, it becomes another. Wish You Were Here has a romance at its heart, but it is not a tale of conventional romance, by any means. It’s a story of adventure, but it contains little vignettes of hearth and home. It features a strong woman, but she allows us to see her weaknesses. It rollicks along with some hearty laughs, and then sucker-punches you with a poignant and moving insight.
One of the loveliest aspects of the book is the descriptions of the states through which Sheridan travels. I have visited many of the same places, and her interpretations of places as diverse as the majesty of the Grand Canyon and the garish neon of Las Vegas, hit the mark. Her depictions remind us that America has some beautiful scenery and notable sights.
Her representation of people is also apt, and sometimes cringe-worthy. She describes Terry, her ‘sad little waitress’, as having ‘an ageless face – somewhere between high school and exhaustion.’ She is disarming in her descriptions of her lovers, and her relationships with them – sometimes this is almost uncomfortably hard to read, but it is certainly honest and ‘warts and all’.
The detail I enjoyed most about this trip was that along the way, she and Scott (her new man) made simple recordings – mnemonics – of special moments, like a sound version of a photograph. What a lovely idea.
If you enjoy a travel tale that explores new places, if you love fast cars and strong women with a sense of humour, and if you like your romance sensibly doused with a good dose of pragmatism, then you will coast through this book, laughing along the way.