Thursday, January 1, 2009

Queen of the Road

by Doreen Orion
Broadway Books
Review by Nancy Horner

Let me just confess up front: If I sat behind a bench wearing judicial robes, I'd be the one writing all the dissenting opinions.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's move on to the book review. Queen of the Road is a road-trip memoir written by a psychiatrist who works out of her home and, in fact, didn't particularly like leaving her house or even changing out of her pajamas before her husband came up with the idea of traveling the country in a renovated bus. After all the decorating, wiring and other alterations were completed, Orion and her husband (also a psychiatrist) left their home in Boulder, Colorado for a practice run and then packed up and began their year-long journey.

Right off the bat, they discovered that there are some very unique problems that accompany life on a bus. Electrical trouble, the need to secure loose objects, difficulty maneuvering, and concern about the height of overpasses are a few of the challenges they faced. Because they planned to travel for a full year, the couple chose to take their full-size poodle and two cats along for the ride.

I adore travel memoirs and love tales of life on the road. Stories about pets usually warm my heart. So, what's not to like? Honestly? I loved the idea of this book and there are, in fact, things I enjoyed about Queen of the Road. There's the typical "transformation" that takes place in novels, as real-life character Doreen learns to stretch her boundaries and enjoy life. There are the interesting, often funny, anecdotes about people and places. There's the oft-humorous analysis of her anxiety about riding in a very, very lengthy and rather tall vehicle. And, there's the fact that they own pets and love them.

What I didn't like was the lame humor. Queen of the Road is just a bit too snarky and tongue-in-cheek for this gal. I often say I adore humor but it has to be carefully balanced. Too much humor without a break is just as bad as heavy, depressing writing without an uplifting moment. And, that's how I felt about Queen of the Road. I liked Doreen Orion's wit, but as in many memoirs I thought she was a bit wrapped up in the love of her own snide remarks. Had I not balanced the reading of Orion's memoir with several other books, I honestly don't believe I would have gotten through the book at all.

Normally, that could mean it's a timing issue -- simply the wrong book for the moment. However, there are a couple of things that still are ringing around in my head. Most importantly, the fact that the author talked about the irritation of waiting for people to make the same old comment everyone believes to be original (but it's not), a zinger about the fact that she and her husband are both psychiatrists. It was lame, sure, but so were a lot of Orion's wisecracks. If you're going to go around saying, "Pardon me, boys. Is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo?" to some poor, innocent bellhops who probably hear the same question at least ten times a day because they work next to the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, please do not tell me you can't take other folks' lame jokes.

In general, I'd call this "a fun, slightly above-average read" that's a little heavy on the self-indulgence typical of memoirs and I'd refer to myself as "picky". There are some interesting tales about places to visit and the book includes both a list of "Special Places and People" plus an exciting list for bibliophiles: "Books Enjoyed on the Bus and Beyond". For those who think the book would make a great choice for book club reading, there is also a reading guide included.

Author's blog and Website.

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