The Road Towards Home
- By Helen McColpin
The Road Towards Home, a new novel by Corinne Demas, is just in time for beach reads and languid summer days. This novel, largely set on Cape Cod, is a breezy read with a literary bent, ideal for throwing in a beach bag. Demas is a prolific writer and while she has written many novels for children and young adults, this novel focuses on the trials and joys of aging, following Noah, a prickly retired English professor, and vivacious entomologist Cassandra in their problematic retirement community.
Cassandra, with her giant Newfoundland, Melville, and various insect pets, finds that without her children or husband (of which she has had three) her house is too big and lonely. She makes the move to a retirement community, Clarion Court, of her own volition. Noah, however, is sent there mostly against his will, submitting to the wants of his son and pushy daughter-in-law. He does his best to live privately, with only his cello and an unnamed, adversarial cat for company. Though he is uninterested in card games with older women looking for companionship, Cassandra and her large dog pique his interest. The two realize that they knew each other in college (she dated his roommate when she was at Mount Holyoke and he was at Amherst), and they strike up a friendship and use each other as pretexts to avoid the concern and meddling of their children.
Clarion Court proves unsatisfactory for them both, feeling more like a return to elementary school, as Noah puts it, than a comfortable home. These issues come to a head when the dining room closes for renovation, and meals are instead delivered to residents’ rooms (in a fashion reminiscent of college during the early days of COVID-19). Frustrated by this, Noah suggests that the two of them escape to Noah’s rudimentary Cape Cod cottage, and Cassandra, surprising everyone including herself, says yes. She’s adamant that she doesn’t want to get married again, but she can’t deny herself exploring the friendship and quiet romance she finds with Noah.
The romance in the novel is understated, taking tropes of contemporary romance and slowing them down to a pace more realistic for people who are not in their early twenties. Yet, what The Road Towards Home does best is emphasize how the issues that plague people through their teenage years and early adulthood remain—and are exacerbated—by old age. Demas suggests that one doesn’t necessarily get older and wiser, but rather that patterns continue even as life changes. Cassandra advises Noah “to leave the past alone and not attempt to relive or replicate the things we’ve done. Let’s let them remain intact.” To continue to live, respecting the past and moving forward without judgement is the best one can do.
The novel’s homage to Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog,” exemplifies this, both in the epigraph—“They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.”—and throughout the novel itself. It explores the same themes as the canonical Russian short story without the backdrop of late nineteenth-century Russia, with its strict and prescriptive morality. Yet at the core, both stories explore the conflict and fear of emotional connection, and the satisfaction of releasing those fears.
Above all, this book is about finding home, both in the literal sense at Clarion Court and Noah’s Cape Cod cottage, and home as a space for companionship and forgiveness. Yet, as the title suggests, Demas paints home not as a destination but a journey. Home may never have any finality, and for Demas, the journey is the best part.