Donald Smurthwaite, The Road to Bountiful (Whitney finalist, General)
I enjoyed the premise to this book, in which a young man, Levi, accepts his aunt’s offer of $600 to drive his great uncle Loyal from North Dakota to Bountiful. The story is told in alternating point of view, from Levi’s youthful exuberance to his uncle’s slower, more reflective approach on life. Loyal’s perspective, in fact, was my favorite, as he mused on the pharmacy practice he’d retired from, the burial of his wife, his own imminent immurement in a retirement community and the long life facing Levi.
The plot itself is slow and gentle, as what was to have been a quick drive turns into a more leisurely road trip. Smurthwaite is a good writer and I liked the way both characters began to rub off on one another. Some of the descriptions of the landscapes were stunning. But I felt that the character arcs (esp. Levi’s) were a little too steep—it didn’t feel true to the complexity of life for Levi’s mindset to have been so overwhelmingly changed over a few days. However, the story definitely has its charms and would appeal to readers looking for a clean, sweet, non-romantic novel.