Mary Lawson is a writer most of you haven’t read, but you should. Her books are wonderful. She writes about families, small towns, and the powerful force of family responsibilities and obligations.
Road Ends is about a family in a very small town, Struan, Ontario. This is a town where everything shuts down most of the winter, where there’s one grocery store and one diner. The Cartwright family has eight children; Tom and Megan are the two eldest. Tom is the brilliant one, who went away to college and studied aeronautical engineering. Megan stayed home to cook and clean and care for all the children. But as this book begins, Tom has come home after his best friend’s suicide, and Megan decides it’s time to get away for the first time in her life. She moves to London and puts her housekeeping skills to good use working in a small hotel. She misses her family terribly, especially little Adam who is a baby when she leaves. But she’s afraid if she ever goes back, she won’t get away again.
Tom, on the other hand, has to adjust to life back in Struan and figure out what to do next. He drives a snow plow, eats at the diner every day, and talks to no one. Unfortunately, with Megan out of the house, and yet another baby, the family is falling apart. His mother does nothing but care for the baby. Dad spends his days at work or in the study, and little Adam isn’t eating or bathing. Tom begins to step up and take some responsibility for his family, but he does so grudgingly, since his parents really aren’t doing anything.
The double standard in this family towards men and women is maddening. Everyone in the family wonders when Tom is going to start his career, and when Megan is going to come back and take care of everyone. The father is sympathetic but does absolutely nothing for his children. The problem for Megan, which is an interesting one, is that she wants to rebel against these expectations but she also really wants to take care of them. By taking a stand she has also isolated herself from the people she cares about.
What makes this book work is that Tom and Megan really have to work through a lot of internal issues, as does their father, and all three of them grow as the book progresses, although that growth is slow and incremental. At times I wanted to scream at all of them.
I felt conflicted about the ending; it seemed a bit rushed and none of the issues seemed resolved. I don’t mind a messy ending but this one left me unsatisfied. For that reason, I liked it slightly less than Lawson’s previous two books, which I highly recommend.