Rush Home Road

A lonely 70-year-old woman takes in an abandoned girl in this heart-wrenching tale of love and loss set in the black communities of southwestern Ontario.

Rush Home Road, a dramatic début novel by an adept storyteller, was compared to John Steinbeck and Alice Munro and is poised to become beloved by readers around the world. While exploring the rich history of the Underground Railroad, whereby fugitive slaves from the United States found freedom in Canada, it also speaks broadly of motherhood, understanding, the importance of goodness and the power of love.

Rusholme, Ontario, is an all-black town born of the Underground Railroad. Its inhabitants farm land cleared by their ancestors who escaped slavery, and are grateful for modest comforts and richness of life; but for the taint of the bootleggers, it is a strong and peaceful community. At fifteen, Addy Shadd has learned to bake a pie crust better than her mother’s, and is happy to pick vegetables in the fields in summer so she can show off her strong, smooth calves to Chester Monk, the young man she hopes to marry one day.

At the annual Strawberry Supper, her dreams go horribly awry. A series of terrible misunderstandings lead to the tragic death of her brother, and blame falls on Addy. Shunned by her family, exiled from the community, she leaves home to find a new life. One refrain fills her head: Rush Home. But she is no longer welcome in Rusholme. Her courageous journey takes her to less-sheltered places, first to Detroit, then Chatham, where she finds a home for a while — until tragedy strikes again. Addy has learned to accept the tribulations life deals her as merely “what is.”

Many years later, in 1978, we meet Addy at 70, living in a trailer park near Lake Erie. She grows flowers and keeps a tidy house, her only company the voice of her little brother Leam, which has stayed with her through the years. Her quiet existence is ruptured suddenly when a neighbour offers to pay Addy to look after her young daughter for the summer. Before Addy can act on her second thoughts, the girl’s mother has disappeared, and odd, mixed-race Sharla Cody is Addy’s responsibility.

It is not the first time Addy has had a five-year-old to care for, and although long-neglected Sharla has much to learn about how to behave, her warm, grateful presence brings back a deluge of memories for Addy, who carries an unwarranted burden of guilt. As we watch a relationship unfold between the aging Addy and the little girl she chooses to care for, we are transported through flashbacks into the harsh life of a strong woman who endured more disasters than triumphs, suffered through racism and prejudice, but still has faith in the redemptive power of love.

With its depictions of human nature at its most despicable and most admirable, Rush Home Road is heartbreaking but optimistic, passionate but funny, intimate and readable, with skillfully drawn characters and compelling plot twists. Although Knopf Canada was the first publisher to buy the manuscript, a U.S. publisher quickly paid a large advance for the remaining rights to this first novel by a Canadian author, and within two months of acquiring the manuscript had sold it in eleven countries. Shortly after the book’s publication, film rights were bought by Whoopi Goldberg, who plans to play the lead role.

Reviews

“I can see Oprah, with a little makeup, playing Addy Shadd in a 5-hankie movie.”
W.P. Kinsella, Books In Canada

“Impressive…. A fascinating story that probably will be unfamiliar to most readers…. This one may leave you weeping into your beach blanket.”
Boston Globe

“A poignant novel about the power of love and forgiveness.”
Booklist

Rush Home Road is a neat novel…packaged and presented with all the ends tucked in, not a thread unravelling from the smooth pages…compelling reading.”
—Tara Klager, New Brunswick Reader

“Lansens writes her tale with assurance, skillfully drawing rounded characters about whom the reader quickly comes to care….It’s one of those books that ends too soon.”
Red Deer Advocate

“Lansens is a willing storyteller…. As a writer, she desires a particular kind of reader, one who wants above all to be transported–who might sit at her knee, the hearth.”
—Noah Richler, National Post

“[A] poignant debut….Addy’s life — her marriage, her children, her journey to Detroit and back to Canada — is the rich core of a novel also laden with history….This is artfully done.”
Publishers Weekly, March 18, 2002

“To read Lansens’s Rush Home Road is to read Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women coupled with Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, but as if both novels had been penned by Toni Morrison… In Rush Home Road … an Ontario almost never imagined, a secret, rural black Ontario, a landscape of tobacco, corn and strawberries and a history of struggle and beauty, is given magnificent, complex reality…. Lansens is a brilliant talent, with a profound, big-hearted comprehension of human flaws and humane possibilities.”
—George Elliot Clarke, The Globe and Mail

“Small-town Ontario is evoked like never before in the epic…Rush Home Road….a compulsive page-turner that keeps on chugging while shedding light on a part of Canadian history that’s not chronicled nearly enough.”
—Susan G. Cole, NOW magazine (Toronto).

“Lansens proves her potential….Lansens presents us with a time and place as steeped in history as the American south; rich material indeed…..Rush Home Road has a sweetness and a charm about it.”
Toronto Star

“The characters remain sympathetic even when patience and kindsness fails them. The book contains reversals of fortune, vivid characters and a rich vein of Canadian history rarely mined in contemporary fiction. In Rush Home Road, Lori Lansens creates a teeming, forgotten world linked to our own by one woman’s life, laid down across the twentieth century like a fragile railroad track.”
—Annabel Lyon, Vancouver Sun

Rush Home Road offers an interesting storyline rich with satisfying plot twists that skilfully confute the reader’s expectations. But the novel’s true power comes from Lansens’ authorial voice – a combinaton of grit and sensuality that exposes the full humanity of characters laid bare against an inconstant sociological landscape. The language flows effortlessly and naturally, dialogue rendered true and authentic through Lansens’ deft handling of vernacular. The author’s deep compassion for her characters evokes writers like John Steinbeck… “
Chronicle-Herald (Halifax)

“The magic of Lori Lansens’ writing lies in the way it knows its characters, and the way the characters know each other….Rush Home Road is a major triumph made up of many small, wonderful things. Dickens has written some stuff like this; so have Alice Munro and Raymond Carver, Haruki Murakami and Penelope Fitzgerald, Rohinton Mistry and Roberston Davies. But not on their first try.”
Hamilton Spectator

immensely readable and informative about a root beginning in our history that I have not seen plumbed in other Canadian novels — the black experience at the end of the Underground Railroad, principally in southwestern Ontario.”
—Noah Richler, National Post

“Lansens’ talent is evident in her ability to move beyond her own experience to recreate the hardship, loves and losses of a black woman in the last century. Her novel is a moving testament to survival.”
—Margaret Macpherson, Edmonton Journal

Advance Praise:

Rush Home Road is brilliant in its microscopic portrayal of the scent and stench, tears and screams, laughter and joy of black Canadian life in a small southern Ontario town. It draws with pulsating prose the picture of life in the developing ‘Negro’ societies formed by the proliferation of Canadian stations along the Underground Railway.”
—Austin Clarke, author of The Question and The Origin of Waves

“This novel? It is the gospel of our history.”
—George Elliott Clarke, author of Execution Poems and Beatrice Chancy

Rush Home Road, the story of a 70 year old woman’s journey through the nearly unbearable sorrows of her past, in order to save an abandoned little girl, is a first novel of exquisite power, honesty and conviction. Its portrait of how much has changed, and how little, over nearly a century, in the realms of race, love, hate and loss, is quite nearly without flaws.”
—Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and A Theory of Relativity

“While wonderful novels about the black immigrant experience abound in Canada, few novelists, black or white, have written about the country’s long-settled black communities. First-time novelist Lori Lansens … does so passionately with Rush Home Road … a compulsively readable book that leaves us feeling we know more about a time and place — and about humankind — than when we opened the cover.”
Quill & Quire advance review