Janice (Janicu)'s Reviews > Whiskey Road: A Love Story

Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin
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's review
Mar 04, 2012

really liked it
Read from March 04 to 11, 2012

(review originally posted here)

I started reading Whisky Road because it was the latest pick by my readalong buddies Chachic and Holly (of Chachic's Book Nook and The Book Harbinger respectively). The previous couple of books that we'd chosen for our readathons ended up being a little darker than we were expecting them to be, but we were hoping Whisky Road would buck the trend, especially since it came highly recommended by Angie of Angieville, and has the subtitle, "A Love Story". Thankfully, we were right.
The Premise: From the back blurb - "After one too many run-ins with irate A-list celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her BMW K 1200 motorcycle from California to New York, she didn't count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by a motorcycle thief. After the brutal attack, which sees both her motorcycle and camera equipment stolen, she finds herself left with only her helmet, a few clothes, and a bag of money she swiped from her attacker. Disillusioned and hurt, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons.
Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who feels as much of an outsider as she is. With Whiskey Road, Karen Siplin again succeeds in giving readers a story about opposites who manage to see what no one else can -- that they're right for each other."
My Thoughts: When Jimi rolls into the coffee shop Caleb frequents, battered up by some unknown event and dressed in motorcycle leathers but without a bike, most of the people there don't treat her very nicely. She's a outsider and a black woman. The only person willing to be helpful is Caleb, but maybe that's because he's been treated as a Bad Boy in his hometown long past when he should be. For her part, Jimi's recent experience on the road makes her wary of a man she sized up as harmless but has traits she associates with racist hillbillies.
Over the next few days, the small town of Frenchman's Bend gives Jimi and Caleb plenty of opportunities to run into each other, and every time they do, they're surprised. While they are both as different as two people can be -- Jimi being a black city girl from a white-collar family, and Caleb a white country boy from a broken home, they are both so alike. Jimi and Caleb have not been perfect - Jimi questions the lengths she has gone to for a photo, and Caleb, reeling from a failed marriage, sleeps with an older married woman who reminds him of his wife. Each of them are a little hardened and worn by life, but they quietly see things differently from the people around them, making them outsiders in their own communities, and drawn to each other.
The story flows very simply from there. Caleb and Jimi begin a subtle relationship where the smallest look and gesture holds vast meaning but hesitation and second guessing comes from both sides. The greatest danger to their fragile new connection is the people that surround them. Jimi's affluent older brother loves living near Frenchman's Creek but stays apart from the locals. He's friendly to the contractors that work in his French-style country house, but would frown on one of them dating his little sister. Caleb friends' problem is not so much about the class difference and more about Jimi's race and outsider status. And then there are the things in their recent histories that could spell trouble for both of them if they were to mix: the reason behind Jimi's bruises, and Caleb's no good older brother, released from prison.
There was a quiet resonance to this story. Fragments stuck in my mind long after reading it: the commentary on racism in little rural towns; how easily one can be sideswiped by that selfish family member; how falling in love is like a beginning. There are some bumps along the way, but was happy when I finished it. The only thing that felt off to me was how abrupt the transition from the climax to the ending was, but I think I was the only one in the readalong that had that quibble, and it was a little one. But then, who hasn't wanted a bit more time to say goodbye to characters they've gotten attached to?
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up liking this contemporary novel. It's a story that is deceptively quiet and slow moving at times, tense with the promise of unpleasantness at others. It was gritty and real, with small town flavor. And most of all, it has love story with an unlikely couple. Jimi and Caleb weren't looking for or expecting each other, but it only made me root more for them that they found a kindred spirit in the unlikeliest package.
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Reading Progress

03/05/2012 page 74
26.0% "Hmm. Getting to know the characters. So far both seem like.. survivors of life and circumstance."
03/07/2012 page 166
58.0% "Things are progressing in a meandering way. Then brother - a wild card. Good place to stop reading."
03/11/2012 page 288
100.0% "The last third I was sort of wary of reading because of the brother, but there were some great moments. The ending - sigh. OK I liked the way things went, but I found it was SO abrupt. I wasn't crazy about the abruptness." 10 comments

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Holly Hey, we are almost on the same page! Btw, I agree about the characters. It's been effortless to read so far but I love that the characters are looking like they'll have a lot of depth.

Janice (Janicu) Holly wrote: "Hey, we are almost on the same page! Btw, I agree about the characters. It's been effortless to read so far but I love that the characters are looking like they'll have a lot of depth."

Hah, awesome. I only had one free hour yesterday so that was as far as I got, but I'm sort of liking their sizing each other up and wondering who this other person is that has caught their interest. Not a fan of Caleb's deal with women, although he does see Jimi differently. I am on a wait and see there. And I have a bad feeling about his brother coming back to town.

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