Gone the Hard Road
Indiana University Press
Barnes & Noble
Published by: Indiana University Press
Release Date: May 4, 2021
“Count your blessings,” his mother told him, “Think of everything good in your life.”
Pulitzer Prize finalist Lee Martin has done it again. Building from his acclaimed first memoir, From Our House, which recounts the farming accident that cost his father both his hands, Gone the Hard Road is the story of Beulah Martin’s endurance and sacrifice as a mother, and the gift of imagination she offered her son. Martin unfolds the world she created for him within their unsettled family life, from the first time she read to him in a doctor’s office waiting room, to enrolling him in a children’s book club, to the books she bought him in high school. Gone the Hard Road portrays Beulah’s selflessness as the family moved around the Midwest, sometimes in the face of her husband’s opposition, to show her son a different way of being. Rather than concentrate on the life his father threatened to destroy, as Martin’s previous memoirs do, Gone the Hard Road offers the counternarrative of a loving mother and the creative life she made possible, in spite of the eventual cost to herself.
A poignant, honest, and moving read, Gone the Hard Road will stay with anyone who has ever struggled to find their place in the world.
“In stunning, lyrical language, Gone the Hard Road nostalgically evokes the midwestern childhood of a bright, sensitive boy faced with pain and beauty in equal measure. With an unflinching look at the enduring bonds of love in the face of shattering hardship, Martin reveals ‘all the ways [we] reinvent ourselves when trouble comes."
~Kristen Iversen, author of Full Body Burden
“Lee Martin is that rare memoirist who, in his willingness to explore what he believes to be his biggest flaws and mistakes, lifts the souls of everyone who joins on the journey. In this raw and honest book, Martin magnifies the healing potential of self-reflection, delivered on a quiet undercurrent of hope.”
~Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Daughters of Erietown
“A haunting and hypnotic memoir by one of our finest storytellers. What I find remarkable is how these essays proceed both sequentially and recursively as they circle and recircle a boyhood shaped by cycles of anger and affection, isolation and intimacy. The emotional intensity can be overpowering.”
~Robert Atwan, Editor of The Best American Essays
No matter how far I’ve come from the country kid I was, I can never forget the family we were: my kind mother, who loved books; my wounded father whose intense love often got swallowed up inside his rage; and me, the only child, eager to escape my life and to immerse myself in someone else’s story. Whenever we drove the hard road, I often found myself imagining all the places that lay beyond it, and wondering if, given the chance, I might someday see them, might move beyond those gravel roads, might leave behind me the dust and the fields, might finally know exactly where I belonged.
I fell in love with books and the life of the imagination at an early age, and because of that, the world opened to me. I can still see myself sitting beside my mother in Doc Stoll’s waiting room, a Highlights for Children magazine open between us. She holds one side of it. I hold the other.
That magazine, with its features like “The Timbertoes,” “The Bear Family,” “Hidden Pictures,” “Goofus and Gallant,” and its pages of jokes, riddles, puzzles, stories, and poems is the only thing good about my visits to the doctor’s office. When the nurse finally calls my name, and my mother takes my hand, I hate more than anything, having to leave the magazine behind for some other little boy or girl. I'm protective of that magazine because my parents can’t afford a subscription. I take particular objection when I open an issue and find that some other kid has already circled the “Hidden Pictures,” or written in the answers on the “To Make You Think” page. Clearly some kids are Goofuses (Goofus uses his pencil where he shouldn’t), and some are Gallants (Gallant never writes in a book that isn’t his). I like to think of myself as a Gallant―a good boy―so I'm willing to subject myself to Doc Stoll’s poking and prodding as I try my best not to squirm.
But for a while longer, my mother and I are in the waiting room with the magazine. Some of my fondest memories from childhood are the times we spent alone together, safely away from my father’s temper. She helps me with the words I don’t know. We do the puzzles, we find the hidden pictures, we read the jokes. Sometimes she reads a story to me. Her voice is soft, and I want to listen to it forever. I like to think she believes her life has turned out exactly how she always wanted it to be. Always wanted to be a mother. Always wanted me, her son, was glad that day when Doc Stoll said, no, he couldn’t get rid of it. This baby would have to be born.
“Read another one," I say to her when she finishes a story.
And she does. My kind and patient mother. I can still hear her.
“All right,” she says.
Then she turns the page, and we begin.