Analysis Of Characters And Plot: Backroads By Tawni ODell

Analysis Of Characters And Plot: Backroads By Tawni ODell

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Danielle Barnes

Backroads begins with Harley being questioned by the police for a crime that the reader knows not of. He delves into the story that has brought him up to this point, beginning from a year after his mother shot his father. The events in the course of this are breath taking.
Harley is nineteen and the legal guardian of his three younger sisters: Amber (sixteen), Misty (twelve), and Jody (six). His conflicts range from having to raise these three girls while working two jobs, trying to be like “other guys,” mentally sorting out all the complications that come with having a mother who murdered an abusive father, and coming to grips with his tortured and confusing past. As Harley continues to roughly go through his therapy sessions, the deeper truths about his abusive upbringing reveal themselves, including the reasons for Amber’s strange behavior about Harley secretly dating Callie Mercer (explanation will come later), and her promiscuous sex life. I think the major conflict would have to be Harley facing who he is and what his family is.
Throughout the entire story up until the near end, Harley is led to believe that his mother is the one who killed their father. Actually, all of the children and the media and everyone else who knows about the murder accuse their mother of the crime because she turns herself in for it. Harley is torn between feeling like his father deserved it and feeling as though his mother had just given up. As the plot progresses, however, it is more apparent that something is missing. Their mother was planning on leaving their father; she had money stashed away to do so, but when Misty found out, she stole the money so that their mother couldn’t leave. There are hints of a strange relationship between Misty and their father. When Harley finally gets up the strength to ask his mother about the suspicions he has, she tells him that Misty was the one who killed their father, but it was a missed shot. She had been aiming for their mother instead, trying to get rid of her as if she was the other woman. Harley internally realizes though that Misty was simply revenging her anger for never taking care of any of the children, for never leaving when she should have, for not loving them enough.
The ultimate climax, however, is at the end.

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Callie Mercer is the mother of Jody’s best friend Esme. Harley has always noticed Callie, but he finally gets to talk with her one night when she is doing her shopping at Shop Rite, one of Harley’s employers. They get on the topic of artists, something they are both interested in, and something happens between them. Callie, a mother of two, longs for someone who will simply give their time to her; her husband is constantly working or is out with the boys. Their relationship progresses and they decided to meet every Wednesday night at this old mining office where Harley used to hang out with one of his friends. In the meantime, Amber is acting more and more strange and telling Harley how she thinks he is disgusting for what he’s doing. He has no idea what she’s talking about. She moves out, and when she comes back to get some of her things, Harley tells her he wants her to stay, which makes her overly happy. That night, Harley wakes up to Amber in bed with him, naked, and he freaks out. She doesn’t understand because he told her he wanted her to say. As he runs out of the room and out of the house, she follows him, screaming, “What about me? You have to take care of me too!” He is too delirious to think about what she’s saying. The next day, he skips work because he’s too freaked out about what has happened. He goes to talk to his shrink and reveals to her his childhood and what happened between Amber and him when they were little. She talks to him for a while, and then tells him to lay down and get some rest and that she’ll be back after a while. When he wakes up, he leaves, realizing he was supposed to meet Callie tonight at the mining office. When he gets there, the first thing he sees is her shoe; her foot is contorted in an uncomfortable manner. He calls out to her, but there is no answer. He fears the worst, but can’t accept it. He crawls up next to her, and sees what was left of her face. She had been shot in the face and all he can do is look away and start crying. “I started to cry then not only our of grief but out of relief too. Now I knew for sure that people had souls. What I felt in her dead hand was much more than a loss of heat and blood. She was gone. She had been more than words and thoughts and feeling. She had been an essence.”
When he hears the footsteps in the gravel come up behind him, he’s not startled because he knew she would wait for him. He stood up, and took the gun away from her as she started sobbing. She apologizes and tells him she didn’t know what else to do.
“What about me?” she asked in a broken whisper.
I wanted to tell her she was everything good about me and everything bad. She was my best intentions mixed with the reality of who I was. She was every promise I couldn’t keep. But I couldn’t explain it to her. All I could say was “Amber” and nothing else would come.
Her eyes were a bruised violet in the dark. A tranquil fear like the realization of painless death spread though me. All I could give her was what I had left. What I had left was under my skin.

Harley is an intricate web of complexities, emotions and problems. His main source of confusion is from the environment he grew up in. With an abusive father, he learned that anger was the one true emotion and all other emotions stemmed from that. However, something is different about him. He doesn’t buy into that. A natural feeling inside him tells him that isn’t true and he fights against the desperation of being like all other guys and the need to be himself. Like most abused children, he blames himself for the problems and for the murder of his father. He feels like his mother possibly did it because his father beat him. He doesn’t ever realize it, but he cares for more than he understands. The only reason he can’t handle certain things well is merely because he doesn’t understand them.
He loved Callie, a passion he didn’t think he would ever be capable of. More importantly, he loves Amber, despite the rocky relationship they endure, despite the fact that she killed the only person in the world he felt cared about him. He took the blame; he turned himself in for her so that she could live her life. He gave her everything he had: the love, his freedom, and his soul.
Then I was back floating alone in my cloud drift. I couldn’t get the girl out of my mind. I felt her fear and her bliss. I felt her regret at lost innocence, but I also felt her need to be ruined.
She was a woman. He was God. He could have blinked and made a son, but He had gone to her instead.
I bet it made her glow from the inside out. I bet it lifted her from the bed, writhing and smiling. I bet threads of silver light shot from her fingertips and toes and every strand of her hair.
I hope so. I hoped and prayed that it was so. It was her one lousy shot at ecstasy and I hoped she got there.
After Harley tells his story to the police, the chief still doesn’t understand why he did it, and in the end, he doesn’t believe Harley did.
I had to do it, I want to tell him. I had to give her that one shot at ecstasy. That’s what the dream was telling me.
Even though everything has been taken from him, even though he has given up everything, he still can’t think of himself but focuses on the hardships that others will have to face: Amber, Jody, Callie’s family, even his dog.
Through everything, I suppose one could describe Harley as forgiving, or perhaps the word is understanding, perceptive.
He looks at me differently than anyone’s looked at me all night. Not hatred, outrage, or disgust. Not even pity or frustration. He’s disappointed.
I sign. A confession’s a confession.
The sheriff takes the pen from me, then says something kind of weird.
“I’m sorry, son,” he tells me. “I know you must have loved her.”[referring to Callie]
I don’t bother telling him I still do. I’m not going to stop just because she killed someone.

Amber helps develop the plot in that she is a part of Harley’s past and a part of the reason Harley is psychologically damaged. She also is important in understanding Harley because what she does and how Harley reacts to those things reveals his deep love and forgiving nature. She causes Harley to sacrifice himself, which he does a lot, but is hardly noticed. She further develops the plot by murdering Callie.
Callie is essential because she becomes the object of Harley’s affections and desires. She also reveals Harley’s need to love and be loved. She exposes the raw spots in him, those places that have been hidden due to an abusive past: caring, passion, and a fondness for art. She inspires him to be somebody and allows him to be himself instead of this image of a man his father has taught him to be. Callie develops the plot in her relationship with Harley, inducing a bitter jealousy in Amber.
Misty is fundamental in developing the plot because we eventually find out that she is the one who killed their father. She encourages an incestuous relationship between Amber and Harley. She is a main reason for so much of Harley’s confusion because her situation with their father leads him to believe there was some sort of sexual relationship going on. She is also important in developing the plot because the fact that she murdered their father is what caused them all to be in the situation without a mother or father, which is what began all of this insanity.

I was introduced to this book while watching “Oprah” one day. She was having an interview with people that had read it and also with the author. The complexity and subject of the book peaked my interest, and so I told my mom to pick it up on her way home from work. I instantly adored it. Tawni O’Dell’s writing style is absolutely fantastic. This novel is a heart-wrenching tale of complete tragedy, betrayal, confusion, love, jealousy, etc. It draws the reader in from the very beginning. I especially love novels that pull incredible emotion from me, whether it is joy, anger, or sadness. I have read this book four times. Each time I read it, I get something more from it. It is very realistic; the behaviors and reactions of the abused children are factual and common and the voice of Harley amazes the reader that the author is a woman. I got so caught up in the book that it would depress me for hours after reading it, and I would think about it a lot, trying to figure out the minds of these characters. It was like actually being inside Harley’s mind, like I really knew him, and I sympathized with him so much. I had to remind myself that it wasn’t real; these weren’t real people and this all hadn’t actually happened.
I’m waiting for the movie to come out, and if it doesn’t in the next year, then I’m going to be writing some production companies and suggesting it. The end was sad, and it tugs at my heart every time I think about it or go back to read it. It’s sad both because of what happens and because it’s the end. I wanted the book to go on forever. It just frustrates me because it’s not fair. Harley had this one chance to be happy and it gets ripped away from him because of the jealousy of his sister. Not only does the woman he loves get murdered, but he also takes the blame for it so that Amber can have a chance at actually having a happy life. He is so selfless, but I don’t want him to be. I want him to be selfish for once. The thing that really upsets me is that he takes the blame, but then his therapist turns Amber in anyway, so everything that happened was in vain. Callie died, Harley gave in to Amber to allow her to have her “one shot at ecstasy,” then he gave up his freedom and his life for her, but it didn’t matter. Amber went to a rehabilitation center and Harley remained in jail for incest (and they felt he wasn’t mentally healthy). It’s just not fair.
I would read anything by Tawni O’Dell in a heartbeat. I would also recommend this book to anyone (with a mature mind, due to the sexual content and adult situations). This is one of my number one favorite books of all time.

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