Review of “The Road to Enchantment” by Kaya McLaren

I very much enjoyed the somewhat “new age” novel “The Road to Enchantment” by Kaya McLaren once I got into it, although I almost didn’t read it. It was sitting on the “new book” shelf at my local library and I nearly passed over it. Why?  Because I found the title “The Road to Enchantment” somewhat unrealistic.

As it turned out, however, the emotional and physical journey the main character, Willow, is forced to take was inspiring and, certainly, the New Mexico scenery where most of the novel takes place, is enchantingly described.

The other reason I almost didn’t read this novel was because a blurb at the back described it as a “coming of age” novel. Given I am of retirement age, that didn’t inspire me. But, I signed it out nonetheless and I am glad I did.

The main character is Willow and, given that she is 40 years old, it most certainly is not a coming-of-age novel given that term usually means someone around 18 or 20. From my vantage point, the story is more about a mid-life evaluation. Each of us goes through it, one way or the other. You are half way through your productive life and have to decide if you want to continue doing the same thing or if you want to make a major change in how you spend the next twenty-five to thirty years.

The story essentially begins when Willow comes home from school one day and finds her mother burning her father’s mattress, roasting wieners and marshmallows. We learn that he has walked out on the family for another woman, an across-the-street neighbour and one of Willow’s teachers. With barely time to get a second breath and take it all in, Willow is packed into the family car and her mother drives nearly non-stop from Washington State to deep into New Mexico Apache country.

Life is a struggle for years thereafter, particularly at school. But, Willow makes a lifelong friend of Darrel, an Apache who lives down the road with his grandparents. Eventually, however, when she does come of age, Willow moves to Los Angeles to get away from it all and finds work as a background cello musician. She also has a three-year relationship with a fellow musician by the name of Ian, who breaks up with her the same day she gets a telephone call from Darrel, that her mother died suddenly after falling off a horse. Willow drops everything and heads to New Mexico to settle her mom’s affairs.

Once back at the DeVine Winery and Goat Ranch, however, Willow has to face what to do with the farm animals and the farm itself, since it has fallen into disrepair and is about to be foreclosed. Willow also learns she is pregnant.

I will leave the rest of Willow’s story so as not to spoil anything for those who haven’t read it yet. What I can say, however, is that what is enchanting about the book relates to how and why age 40 is different from age 20 in how ready many of us are to undertake major changes in our lives.

If I have any complaints about the book it is the way McLaren alternated chapters between the past and the present. At times, I found the transitions were jarring. Regardless, it is a book that I will think about for a long time — which is a sign of an excellent book. In fact, I liked it so much I am going to read more of what McLaren has written.

My rating for this novel is 4 stars out of 5.

Paperback published by St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, January 2017. (342 pages)