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Book Review: Any Road Will Take You There

Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons. David W. Berner. Little Big Man Press, May 27, 2013, Trade Paperback and e-book, 300 pages.

Reviewed by L.E. Schwaller

David Berner knows Jack Kerouac. He knows On the Road and the Beats and music. What he doesn’t know – and what permeates his latest book, Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons – is how to be the world’s greatest father or son. And the best part, Berner knows that none of us really do. He understands we’re all making it up as we go along, trying our best just to  be there and not screw things up. There is no manual, Berner reminds us, on how to be fathers or sons.

Any Road Will Take You There is a thoughtful, fast-reading memoir centered on a cross-country road trip a father embarks on with his two teenaged boys after re-reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Using the modern literary classic as a roadmap, the recently divorced Berner rents an RV and heads west from Chicago with his two sons. When they reach Denver, an important town for the Beats and Kerouac in particular, Berner’s friend Brad (a fellow middle-aged divorcee whose own clarity of consciousness and direction is lacking as much if not more than Berner’s) joins them for the second leg to California then back again. Throughout the journey, Berner reminisces on his relationship with his recently deceased father and the life of his teenaged sons, all while contemplating the writings of Kerouac and the importance of what the road has to teach us about ourselves. 

At times the narrative of Any Road Will Take You There  may seem to detour away from the story and into the meandering, interconnected memories and recollections of the narrator. This is, however, the point of Berner’s work. Any Road Will Take You There is a memoir that strives, as Berner writes, “to balance the world he’s building with the one he left behind.” His narrative flows the way one's memory might, drawing lines between our past, present, and future journeys.

The book succeeds most when the reader is provided with snapshots, moments of genuine and heartfelt recognition. How Kerouac has affected and continues to influence Berner and his life is less impactful than how his relationship with his father has shaped the father he strives to be—for the sake of himself and, most importantly, his sons, Casey and Graham.

Casey and Graham, along with Berner’s father, Norm, are the central figures of the book. This seemingly outlandish journey is brought to life through Berner’s care and love for his two sons and his fond recollections of his father. Interwoven into Berner’s memoir are stories of his boys’ adolescence and his own reminiscence of his father, all of which achieves a continuity between the generations of men and the parallels of their lives and personalities. We feel, as the reader, Berner’s quiet pain at the loss of his father and the hope and love he has for his teenaged sons.

Any Road Will Take You There is a book for fathers and sons. It’s a book for middle-aged men, for wives looking to better understand their husbands, and mothers to get to know their sons. Berner’s latest book (his follow-up to the 2011 Royal Dragonfly Grand Prize Winner, Accidental Lessons) engages and teaches you something about yourself or possibly the man closest to you. His threading of memories and stories about his father, his sons, his failings and successes, and how the journey is the most telling and important piece of our lives may just inspire you to take a trip of your own. At the very least, you’ll set out to read Kerouac, be it for the first time or all over again.

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