Reviewed by Marnie Mueller (Ecuador 196365)
OH, HOW THIS BOOK TOOK ME BACK! Elaine Reidys The Shortest Way Home is a bildungsroman, the tale of a young, working class Irish American girl who joins the Peace Corps in 1963, straight out of her hometown of Trowbridge, Massachusetts. When we meet her shes tough, enterprising, and idealistic. Lina, short for Colleen, files her application on her own, without letting her parents in on her plans. When shes accepted by the Peace Corps, her parents are horrified and try to stop her, but she will have none of it. We follow her through training in a camp in Palmar (which sounds suspiciously like the place I trained in, in the mountains above Arecibo, Puerto Rico). Esmeralda, where Lina is sent, is clearly the Domincan Republic of Elaine Reidys own service. Through her we witness that first encounter with the urban poor, their wretched living conditions, the illnesses that run rampant in the barrios, the rats, the hunger, and the astonishing generosity the Esmeraldans show to any visitor in their homes. With Lina we rail against the shocking unconsciousness of the rich and the obtuseness of American government officials, including the hierarchy of the early Peace Corps.
Its the stuff of a Graham Greene novel, but Im sorry to say that most of the book doesnt come up to the level of the writing in this scene. Nonetheless, The Shortest Way Home is a valuable piece of literature, particularly for those interested in the early days of the Peace Corps. It describes and evokes the mid-1960s experiences of Volunteers in Latin American countries with a specificity I havent found elsewhere.
Marnie Muellers Peace Corps novel, Green Fires, was the winner of the Maria Thomas Award for Outstanding Fiction and an American Book Award. The Climate of the Country, her second novel, is set in Tule Lake Japanese American Segregation Camp where she was born. Her most recent novel, My Mothers Island, was a BookSense 76 Selection.