A MYRIAD OF ROADS THAT LEAD TO HERE
by Nathan Elias
Scarlet Leaf, 72 pages
reviewed by Kelly Doyle
Nathan Elias’ first novella, A Myriad of Roads that Lead to Here, tells a story that is simultaneously frustrating and accessible. This bildungsroman provides a snapshot into the emotional journey of a naive and sometimes selfish narrator, Weston, as he grapples with the untimely death of his mother, which had occurred a few months before.
Home from college for the summer, Weston decides to walk to the ocean. He hopes that this trip, modeled after stories he has read, will cure him of his pain. Unfortunately, the reader quickly realizes that this journey is not only fruitless, but may have the reverse effect than was intended. Brief moments of human connection, as fleeting as smoking a cigarette and seeing another person doing the same or giving a child a quarter to buy a candy, are all that give Weston any relief on his walk.
During these moments, when Weston reaches out to another human being, the reader can feel the void in his heart. That void only grows as he moves on, determined to finish his painful quest and all the while aware that his life is falling apart. “I write in my journal about things I haven’t had time to think of,” Weston says, “what my life will be like without my mother, the fact that I may actually be in severe credit card debt after this trip, and what I plan to do when I get back.” He wishes he wasn’t “consumed by fear.”
When Weston invites his friend Saul to accompany him on the journey to the ocean, he envisions the two of them walking through the forests of America, clutching copies of Walden, breathing in the clear air and emerging at the end like newborns, all of their pain and sorrow cast along the side of the road. He hopes to find peace and closure, to banish the thoughts of ghosts that torment him. His pain is vague to the reader but present, manifesting in the form of dreams and ghosts and torturous thoughts that are never described in more than general terms. Beyond expected mourning, Weston appears haunted. This extreme inner turmoil may be explained by Weston’s very open and abrupt admission that he once partook in self-harm with an old girlfriend. Weston never elaborates on the incident aside from regular references to his scars, but it could indicate that Weston’s young adult life was not easy.
Whatever form of pain Weston experiences, he strives to escape. He hopes to find “freedom and independence” and, at the same time, he tells Saul, “Whatever it is that will cleanse us both of the distress we feel from losing our mothers.” Weston chooses Saul as his companion not because they are particularly close or because Saul is particularly savvy, but because Saul has also lost a mother. They can suffer together. Rather than escaping, Weston builds his own microcosm of suffering. He pretends to be positive, playing the devil’s advocate when Saul proclaims that he cannot “see everything as beautiful” as Weston does, but his pretended positivity doesn’t breach the surface. Weston begins to live off of other people’s kindness while maintaining the facade that he never accepts help.
Weston often seems selfish, but this selfishness is followed by subtle reminders that he is only a kid. He misses his mother “sitting in the front seat, within arms reach, every so often checking on [him] to give [him] a smile, to realign [him] to a peaceful state.” The circumstances of his mother’s death are conspicuously absent from the text, aside from a vague reference to her habit of checking herself into the emergency room. Still, it seems clear that her death was sudden and occurred before Weston had an opportunity to grow up and learn to care for himself. Not only is he dealing with the loss of a loved one, but he is suddenly thrust into independence.
Weston chooses isolation and hardship to prove that he can care for himself, that he can live without his mother. He asks himself, “how can I ever find freedom and independence if I keep depending on people,” and decides that the only way to prove he is capable is to dissociate himself from the support system at his disposal. He is strung between desiring independence and desiring to be cared for. “You look at dependence like it’s weak,” his girlfriend tells him. “It’s not weak. It’s okay to let people love you. You know that, right?” Weston admits that he does not. Still, his obvious naivete proves that he cannot grasp the independence he wants, not yet. The conflict between his mind and heart manifests as hypocrisy and selfishness, dominating a character who consistently says one thing and does another.
Weston’s romantic idea of a Walden-esque journey proves ill-conceived and badly planned. The two men do not pack enough food, yet their packs are too heavy. They cannot walk the distance they expected and they cannot sleep outside like they had hoped. Rather than walking through vitalizing forests like Thoreau, they find themselves growing exhausted alongside highways and parking lots. Weston repeatedly reiterates that he does not want help from anyone, nevertheless, he and Saul soon resort to hitching rides, staying in people’s homes and shelters and eating others’ food, refusing to admit that their adventure is a failure. Weston turns to his girlfriend for help, admitting that he began dating her solely because she supports him. Once again, his selfishness becomes apparent, but this selfishness emerges out of his disorientation in a world without his mother.
When Weston and Saul arrive in the welcoming home of Weston’s cousin, the warmth and love they find bring Weston’s true problem to the forefront. Weston realizes that he “lost touch with a lot of people” after his mother’s death. He finally begins to recognize that this might be part of his suffering. Unfortunately, this realization seems to be quickly forgotten. He continues asking his girlfriend for favors. He continues contemplating his own struggle while remaining blind to the struggles evident in his cousin’s immediate family. Oddly, none of his family members mention the death of his mother or the unusual nature of his trip, and the novella never addresses the statuses of his father and stepfather.
Weston does not know who he is, what he wants, or how to fix his problems. His lack of experience, worldly knowledge, and self-awareness makes his healing process exasperating for the reader. His troubled young adult life offers some sort of explanation and his initiative provides hope for the future, but all the reader is actually given is the middle of his journey. Elias provides very little information about Weston’s family or the circumstances of his mother’s death; his narrative stops short before Weston has an opportunity to truly change before his life is either repaired or destroyed. This renders the story incomplete, missing the truly essential moment of change that Weston surely was looking for.
Who was Weston before this tragedy and who is he after? The reader is left to wonder. Nevertheless, this short snapshot into a young man’s life, though incomplete, succeeds in portraying the painful confusion that follows a tragedy. This novella provides readers who have experienced loss an opportunity to see their own feelings of confusion, fear, and disorientation reflected in a character’s search for rightness in a world that feels anything but.
Kelly Doyle studies English, creative writing, and psychology at Emory University. Her fiction has appeared in Firewords Quarterly, Stories Through the Ages College Edition, and others. She is the editor-in-chief of Emory’s literary magazine, Alloy, and she works in a developmental memory lab on campus. She loves to read and travel, and she plans to pursue a career in writing.
You may also enjoy: