It’s tempting to say that time and space are the villains of Barbara Henning‘s Thirty Miles to Rosebud. After all, several decades and an entire continent separate the protagonist, Kate, from the best friend she lost track of during her teenage years, and the quest to find the friend seems, at times, hopeless. Despite the years and miles that separate the friends, however, Kate persists in her journey, intent on returning a shoebox full of memories to her erstwhile friend, Peggy. Along the way, she has ample opportunity to reflect on her life, on the inevitable onset of middle age and all that it encompasses, and on myriad twists and turns that brought her into her life. In other words, she gets a chance to reflect upon time, space, circumstance, and everything else that made her into who she is and, as she does so, comes to a stronger understanding of herself. Time and space, it turns out, are not quite villains and definitely not heroes, but necessary evils, bittersweet agents in the ongoing motion of our lives.
Thirty Miles to Rosebud moves along at a meditative pace, and appropriately so. As a storyteller, Henning is in no hurry to move her reader from point A to point B. Rather, she allows her universe to unfold organically, and Kate’s search for Peggy gives her plenty of time to reflect on a number issues, not the least of which is her ambivalence toward the hedonistic ethos that defined her youth. A child of the 1960’s, Kate recalls being both attracted to yet cautious of the freedoms often associated with the era, particularly with respect to love, and as she moves through her life in the hear and now, her quest to find Peggy develops, in large part, into an effort to come to terms with her mixed feelings about the past.
In a sense, Thirty Miles to Rosebud, is a complex coming of age novel, or a novel that complicates our understanding of what it means to come of age. Or, to put it another way, it’s novel that insists on every page that we’re always coming of age, and that the past is always prologue. We are both creatures of time and creatures of our time, Henning reminds us throughout the novel–but what we do with the time we have is what ultimately defines us.