We Ate the Road Like Vultures by Lynnette Lounsbury

When I was about seventeen, I read a passing reference to Jack Kerouac in a novel to the effect that we all grow out of our Kerouac phases towards the end of adolescence. At the time I was scandalised, but within a year I too had left the road in search of novels by women  – or at least containing women who were not hated by both author and protagonist.

Perhaps because I am not many years out of my own Kerouac phase, though, I was immediately intrigued by Lounsbury’s first novel for adults. A sixteen-year-old girl from country New South Wales hitch-hikes to Mexico to track down Kerouac and his muse, Neal Cassady, who have retired in secret, pretending to be dead. What follows is a string of mad adventures that end in a road trip and a series of philosophical solutions: landmines, pet elephants, a horrific Mexican jail sequence and satori in a guest house. We Ate the Road Like Vultures is a comic novel which takes up Lulu’s teenage ‘Kerouac phase’ and produces an homage to the On the Road we loved as teenagers ourselves. The novel shifts in tone between incredulity and emotional depth – the second half is especially strong in the quality of writing, and is well worth some of the clunkier set-ups in the first few chapters.

Whilst her novel does not perform a feminist response to iconic twentieth century (white, male) American fiction, Lounsbury offers a deeply enjoyable road novel led by an excellent narrative voice. Lulu draws readers into that familiar, wondrous fervour of the adolescent literary adventurer; she and Lounsbury have a knack for great simile, as per the killer title. I find it difficult to respect novels that don’t take up the political and social imperatives present in their material – and it is certainly possible to do this and produce excellent comedy. However, We Ate the Road Like Vultures is an impressively written and refreshing book. Recommended for anyone who remembers their mad and hilarious dreams of the road.

Georgia Delaney works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.