A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better – Benjamin Wood
A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better is a deeply psychological story with creative twists that shock and captivate the reader. Daniel Jarrett/Hardesty narrates the story in reflection, starting in 1995 as he is due to leave on a road trip with his estranged father, Francis (Fran) Hardesty. They are to visit the film set of ‘The Artifex’ where Fran claims he works. Daniel is obsessed with the TV series, and it is only because of her son’s fixation with anything Artifex, that his mother, Kath, allows Fran to take Daniel on this road trip to see the film-set and meet the actors. Even with 12-year-old Daniel’s limited interaction with his father, he knows not to set his expectations too high.
Fran is an incurable womanising opportunist that has managed to destroy his marriage to Kath and consequently has been absent for most of Daniel’s life. Fran is a handsome, importune man that attracts women, somewhat addictively. As the narrative progresses we get to know him as a totally unreliable and erratic person, prone to mood swings and broken promises.
“He seemed to spend each new day of his life promoting compensation for the day before.”
It’s hard to say too much about the story without giving away spoilers but there is always a sense of doom and tragedy, especially at the start of the road trip when Daniel reflects that as he drove off it was the last time he ever saw his mother. We are treated to a simmering exposé of Fran’s life and his erratic behaviour, as he tries to organise his son getting onto the set of The Artiflex. Sometimes this bubbling undercurrent felt like rambling, but at a point, you realise you’re totally enraptured in the development of the plot. I didn’t have a lot of empathy for any of the characters, but the expectation of an inevitable shock waiting to pounce had me transfixed. The narrative is subtle and gradually reveals the relationship between father and son, and between the other characters. The road trip culminates in a startling series of events that will leave you stunned, as the complete breakdown of a person destroys himself and those around him.
Quite surprisingly those events do not bring the story to a conclusion and the remaining 20% of the book takes us on a psychological exploration of memory, frustration and irresolution. How and why do we remember things the way we do? Why do we all remember events slightly differently?
In the latter stages of the novel, Daniel is an adult, obsessively trying to reconstruct those dramatic events from his memory, witness statements, and video evidence. He struggles with the omissions, the perceptions and the tenuous connections of events. Why are there fissures in the substance of what people say? Are omissions deliberate, self-preserving, accidental, or a lapse of awareness? He torments himself with this and on trying to apportion which parent is responsible for which personality trait.
It felt a little strange dealing with a climactic scene well before the end of the book and the latter part felt a little jarred even though it was also quite interesting. A thoughtful story with frightful moments. Well worth a read!
I would like to thank Simon and Schuster UK Publishing and NetGalley for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.