I share a peculiar memory with my son, though others don’t seem to find it as hilarious as we do. Somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis, there was once a giant wooden billboard shaped like an outline of Elvis Presley. We knew it was Elvis because though the paint was faded, we could just make out the words “The Elvis is Alive Museum. Three miles ahead.” Outside this museum sat a ’57 Chevy on blocks with a notice in the window that read, “Elvis used to drive a car similar to this.” Inside, we found the grime of fried chicken, t-shirts and key rings, and an old ice cream bucket with a slot in the top for donations. Only then were we told the actual museum was in the back if we wanted to visit. So, we did. To us it gets even funnier with each successive retelling.
That’s problem with most travel stories. The reader really needs to be there, because everywhere you go, there you are. In your place, you might be wondering why my son and I think our journey was so entertaining. It takes talent to put a reader in a place they’ve never been, and to avoid the age old excuse for a bad story: “You had to be there.”
Roz Morris has the story part of travel figured out. Calling her new book Not Quite Lost: Travels Without a Sense of Direction “a diary,” Morris shares tales of the many ways we travel, in our minds and with our bodies. The stories are full of interior and exterior travel within the everyday and the special, within the static and moving landscape. And moving has more than one meaning.
The book opens with the story “Eve of Destruction: a Childhood Home.” I was driven to begin writing this review immediately after reading, because I did not want to lose any memory of the experience. “Eve” is full of wanting to move in the right direction while feeling a little lost (as the title suggest), and opens with the frightening mishap of a huge and heavy stone sphere being knocked off a gatepost. It rolls and rolls, ever gaining momentum and danger. The tale is crammed with unwanted journeys, wishes to emotionally move on, failing to move when moving is the only sensible option, unromantic moving, tracking, abandoning, inward paths, travel by Google, surviving but not moving, and carrying on. All in a remarkable nineteen pages about a woman who refuses to leave Sussex and face her childhood memories. And a stone ball that is upset and uncontrollable, leaving someone to chase it. Much like life.
The collection is bookended by “Heyday,” and I went straight to it after reading “Eve of Destruction” to see if Morris could carry the quality of the collection to the end. It focuses on misdirection, the challenge of redirection, being unable to progress, finding oneself in harm’s way and the peculiar outcomes of destinations. There are nightmares and boundaries, suspicion and ignorance, and anonymous locations that wish to remain discreet. Morris reveals that laying claim to one’s distant mental artifacts through someone else is an uncertain use of effort. Though it did not have as striking of a universal nature of the first, the story was similarly excellent.
There are “snakes and ladders” of progress for us: the often unreliable can become reliable, and there is misery in watching others progress as we sit still.
The title story has wide and deep themes that run along similar lines to “Eve of Destruction.” There are “snakes and ladders” of progress for us: the often unreliable can become reliable, and there is misery in watching others progress as we sit still. At times, we can pursue any route we please, surprising ourselves and delighting others (or not). We discover things that are, and are not, what they seem to be, and even charm can become annoying. Granting ourselves permission to look around is essential. We can alternate means of gaining our goals. Being stranded is just another perspective, and all things will eventually come to a natural end. “Not Quite Lost” is another very strong tale.
The book has fifteen other stories, primarily set in Britain, where Morris has spent most of her life. Contrary to so much modern travel literature there is much life close to home, though the author does venture to locales like Paris, Mexico City and Italy in the collection. All the stories can be read for pure pleasure, but important themes are evident if the reader considers life to be a journey where we are all not quite lost, but often lose our sense of direction.