The Leisure Seeker

Road tripping seniors in a tale worth reading

Feb 18, 2009 at 12:00 am

The Leisure Seeker follows the odyssey of the elderly Detroit (technically, Madison Heights) couple on a last fling in their RV, an ultimate road trip from Detroit to Disneyland along Route 66. Ella's body is cancer-stricken, but her mind remains sharp (save for when she's hopped up on "the dope," as she affectionately refers to it). Her husband John suffers from Alzheimer's (or, as Ella so touchingly puts it in old-school, non-diagnonsis terms, "a little bit of dementia"). The couple, fleeing from doctors, family, the constraints of aging and dying in the institutionalized manner, takes off in the "Leisure Seeker," the family RV that has faithfully taken the Robinases and their two children on innumerable road trips in the past. Along the way, the couple faces dangers of tourist traps and other, graver situations as they travel the "mother road" toward its terminus.

Road trips, by their nature, make for a tangled web of mental states — progressing ever-forward, from reverie-inducing stretches of nothingness to the great metaphor of personal discovery to the absolute necessities of ritual like eating, gassing-up and hitting the bathroom. And it's here at this twilight nexus of past and present that Zadoorian's novel really takes flight.

Through Ella's eyes we experience a life of memories. Better still, our narrator's mental faculties are spry and full of piss 'n' vinegar and humor. The intimacy of travel gives us equally intimate entrée into the couple's lived-in dynamic. Especially riveting is the manner in which Zadoorian teases out the subtle machinations of Ella's relationship to John's disease. She coaxes extra time from his fleeting moments of clarity, she takes no quarter when he's not all there, and she's ever-patient with the mental frailty of her life partner. Throughout, Zadoorian writes with an unpretentious style, like the friend you call when you don't want to hear bullshit. His prose is chock-full of well-placed details and observations couched in language that makes them irresistible. He returns to themes of memory and loss, to free will and destiny, melancholy and romance with a deceptively easygoing, plain-spoken style. Just as he did in Second Hand, Zadoorian shows us that it's often the overlooked, the forgotten and the marginal in life where you often find the most fascinating stories. And, with Leisure Seeker, he does so not with a dazzling style but rather by tapping into the vital currents pulsing beneath even the most mundane moments of John and Ella's (and, by extension, our) lives, inspired by the recent passing of his own parents. Along the way, he creates an intimate, funky, road adventure where the action is tempered by a state of grace.

An excerpt from Michael Zadoorian’s The Leisure Seekers

An early start through the gloom of interstate Indiana toward Chicago, where we will pick up Route 66 at its official starting point. Normally we wouldn’t go anywhere near a big city. They are dangerous places if you’re old. You simply can’t keep up and will be promptly ground into the pavement (Remember that.) But it’s still Sunday morning and traffic is about as light as it gets. Even still, giant loud semi trucks grind and huff past us going 75, 80 mph and faster. Yet John is unshakable.

Though his mind is fading, he’s still an excellent driver. I’m put in mind of Dustin Hoffman in that Rain Man movie. Maybe it’s because of all our car trips in the past, or the fact that he’s been driving since he was thirteen, but I don’t think he’ll ever forget how. Anyway, once you get into the rhythm of long-distance driving, it’s only a matter of direction (my job — mistress of the maps), avoiding those sudden unexpected exits, and looking out for the danger that comes up fast in your mirror.

Without notice, the air goes gray and flat. Foundries and factories shimmer in the distance, under a shroud of grimy haze.

John frowns, turns to me, and says, "Did you fart?"

"No," I say. "We’re just going through Gary."