Finished August 11
Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus by Joyce Magnin
Harriet Beamer was expecting her son Henry and his wife Prudence just before Christmas, and while preparing the house she fell and hurt her leg. Insisting that she wasn't badly hurt against her daughter-in-law's worries, Harriet agreed to move out to California from her home in Pennsylvania if she had truly broken something. And so the motivation for the plot of the novel is set.
As she is doing the final preparations to give her house up to the new owners and hand over her belongings to the mover, Harriet is suddenly struck by the realization that she has never really been anywhere. Her late husband Max wasn't a big traveller and so they only did an annual trip to the Jersey shore each summer, and she hasn't gone anywhere since his death fifteen years ago. As she packs up her large collection of salt and pepper shakers, she sees that they have all been given to her by others who travelled to these places. And so, she sends her aging, beloved dog Humphrey out to her son by plane and decides to travel west her own way, using local buses and trains as much as possible to see the country.
Henry, more than Prudence, worries about her travelling alone in such a way, but her friend Martha is supportive. As she wanders west, seeing the sights, purchasing more salt and pepper shakers and sending them ahead, and making new acquaintances, Harriet gains confidence, knowledge and rich experiences. She documents her trip in her journal, writing to her late husband there, and relying on a higher power to take her where she needs to go.
This is a novel of faith, of adventure, and of independence. Harriet is a real character, and I enjoyed her moments of discovery, her quiet calmness in adversity, and her sense of adventure.