‘The Road-trip’ novel always has a special appeal to me. Usually we are dealing with a main character who is trying to overcome some sort of unmentionable action or event who is ‘on the road’ seeking either comfort or a new truth. There is something unique to the that archetype of the human condition, and Daniel Hornsby has added a unique take on that search when he sent protagonist Father Dan on a road trip in a Toyota Camry in the book Via Negativa.
Page 3 – Chapter 1
Somebody hit a coyote and I pulled over to the shoulder to take a look at it.
I’d watched it bounce off a minivan twenty yards ahead of me. A gold smudge. At first I thought it might have been a paper bag tossed out the window, or maybe an old T-shirt, until I saw its big yellow eyes and tail flopping around as it skittered onto the gravel, rolling like a stuntman on fire.
By the time I walked up to it on the shoulder, it was lying on its side, taking quick, shallow breaths and staring up past my head. One of its legs looked like it had an extra joint.
I reached out to touch it, and it didn’t bite. I ran my finger along its hind leg, and it didn’t move.
With a spare blanket from the trunk, I wrapped him up (I could now see he was male, for whatever that’s worth) then stuck him in the back seat, next to the bucket, the books, and my duffel bag.
There is something universal in the drifting tale of Father Dan. He had spent most of his life dedicated to providing what he believed comfort and good to people. But the conservative diocese he worked for found his ways eccentric and he is exiled and lost out in the world. But he is not alone. His travels encounter interesting people and odd places alone the way which find him reflecting on his beliefs, wants and memories. There is something unique in the travel of Father Dan that we readers are privileged to witness.
Page 19 Chapter 3
This morning, I gave the coyote a couple hours to recover without being bumped around the back seat. I to driving around nine.
I put in a Lorde CD once I got on the highway. A girl in one of the youth groups gave it to me when I told her what kind of music I liked. It’s a couple of years old, but I still enjoy it. My favorite singer, though, is Prince. I have five or six of his CDs crammed in the cubby behind the cup holders, along with a few other odds and ends: pens and pencils, a cigarette lighter, an old letter in a green envelope from a friend in Colorado. There is a real mystical theology to Prince, and I’m not being cheeky.
For breakfast I stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Effingham, Illinois. To my right sat a pack of men in camouflage, wolfing down biscuits and gray breakfast sausages. I sat at a table by myself, under a pair of snowshoes and a hatchet nailed to the wall.
Before I ordered, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and make sure there wasn’t anything stuck in my beard. I’ve been working on growing a beard for a while now. I thought it might help me get into character. I’d always wanted to grow one when I was a pastor, but, owing to a barren stripe on my cheek, I could quite get there without looking ridiculous for a couple of patch weeks. Now I’ve plowed through this phase, with enough hair to fluff over the bald spot. I’m about halfway between a Francis and a Peter. Nothing quite Old Testament yet, still several months away from an Antony. Aside from a teal smudge of toothpaste, I looked okay.
There is something noble about the rambling journey Father Dan takes in this narrative. There are bits of insight about existence and profound questions raised about the world in this book. We know Father Dan is an enlightened individual who is on a journey of self discovery. Will he gain some further insight or will he become hurt through this trip? Will his memories reveal some dark element of his past? Readers feel like careful and helpless observers while following Father Dan’s journey with the hope the trip will end with some deep comfort and realizations for him. And those readers who follow his journey to the end will be given an important truth about the human condition.
Page 104 Chapter 11
The next morning, I packed my things and prepared to slip out of the house with as little fuss as possible. I wasn’t sure if Anna had mentioned my being down there with them or not, and I thought I might as well go before Martin had the chance to ask me about it.
I went to the kitchen to fill my water jug and found Martin, drinking a glass of orange juice. The halberd was there, too, leaning against the stove.
“I don’t know what all you heard last night. Me and the girl have been having trouble lately. It’s probably best if you just go.”
She hadn’t mentioned me.
I told him I’d seen a lot of messed-up families, and his was far from the worst. This seemed to cheer him up slightly. I was grateful the girl hadn’t ratted me out, but now I can see I was being a coward. I could have been a witness for her.
I am a coward, but you probably know that already.
Daniel Hornsby has taken readers on a unique journey of faith and the human condition with his novel Via Negativa. We boldly witness ‘Father Dan’ travel a long trip into the wilderness with his Toyota Camry and come out somewhat more enlightened at the other side. It is a bold book worth reading.