Yvonne Blomer, Sugar Ride

At heart, I'm a trusting reader: I trust writers, and I trust their stories.

That's not to say that I'm not judgmental, I am, but with a book whose circulation is relatively small (i.e., not celebrity biography or airport-bookstore fiction), I'm always going to assume that the payoff's coming. I wish that more reviewers and readers, including some eyeroll-inducing ones over at GoodReads, took a similar approach more often.

To be clear, Yvonne Blomer's Sugar Ride called for no such patience from me. I was immediately hooked, and I didn't want the book to end.

But some of its readers needed to dig in more thoughtfully, because they simply didn't get the book, and that's frustrating to see. If you can just let go and let the words take you, it's a wonderful ride, and I hope that it keeps finding more readers (now more than two years after it first appeared).

Blomer and her husband Rupert Gadd cycled more than 3700 kilometres in three months in 1999, all while dealing constantly with the implications and consequences of Blomer's diabetes, some of which were extremely serious. Although its subtitle is Cycling from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, this book isn't a journal or a chronological travel piece. Instead, twenty years on from their transformative journey, Blomer has turned the stories and details of their trip into a sequence that represents their changing feelings about the places they visited, about their obligations and privileges connected to their being there, and about the lives that they've lived since.

In general the book has two voices, the great majority presented as a regular-font present-tense fragmented narrative from 1999, and the rest as an italicized contemporary reflective voice that looks back at Blomer and Gadd's pre-internet selves (when they, when so many of us, were so early in learning about their implications in colonialism, racism, and structural exploitation). The gaps and connections between these voices / sections are what make this book so poignant, such a joy to read, but somehow that's also the piece that too many readers haven't bothered to accept.

Clearly, there are going to be marketing challenges with a memoir-ish tale about a very long bike ride taken two decades ago by non-celebrities who didn't suffer newsworthy trauma as a result. More than that, as Blomer says herself in the book, Sugar Ride can't be a handbook: the roads have changed, many of the locations and routes can't be found on Google Maps, and tourism plus the internet have blown up that part of the world. Even on the diabetes side, the technology and treatment protocols have changed enough over the last twenty years to reduce the accessibility of that piece.

But we all change, and that's what this book's about for me. You in your 20s, you in your 40s: most of your cells have been replaced, your memories are fading, your ideologies might be a mess, your body's letting you down in predictably appalling ways. I really enjoyed Blomer's ability to take her earlier self seriously, to give her the floor and listen, while also sharing wryly with readers in the italics her sense of what's changed for her philosophically, bodily, and so on.

With all this available to think about, why bother with a chronological travel narrative? Or a straightforward reflection on the body, skewed toward diabetes and its discontents?

No: it's right to emphasize the braidings, eddies, overlaps of how experience turns into thought into a whole life, and Sugar Ride does a great job of hinting at that while seeming to be mostly just telling us a story (albeit non-sequentially).

Admittedly, I know Yvonne, because our kids have been at school together. As well, she's done so much work for literary and other communities that I really do admire her. Still, I'm not the only one to feel this way about her book, so there.

Like I say, if you can let the words of Sugar Ride carry you, they'll take you somewhere you'll find well worth spending some time. Trust me.


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