2013 essay entries were asked to answer one of the following questions:
What is the meaning behind the title and how does it apply to to the main characters?
Twice in the novel, Mary tells a story about Gertie’s stitching. She says that it doesn’t look like much from the back with all the tangles and knots. It is only when you see it “frontways” that it makes sense. What is the significance of this story to the novel as a whole?
Entries were reviewed by members of The Tale for Three Counties Council who received copies of the submissions in which the writer’s identity and location were not included. Judges then voted for which entries they liked the best; the six highest vote getters were selected as winners.
2013- The Winners
Here are the winning entries in alphabetical order
Ruth Andes, Elba
Our lives are made up of threads that weave into a pattern that produces a picture made by those individual threads. And, sometimes, what seemed negative turns into a path that leads to something positive. So, when you look at only the threads, you cannot see the eventual full picture that emerges when it is seen “frontways.” Mary is assaulted and that leads to the death of Gertie, but it also leads to her being sold to Kittredge’s and eventually meeting Micah. For Micah, the loss of the deal with the land, leads to his work as a carpenter, his walk to freedom, and his reunion with Mary. The Irish famine that took the life of Ethan’s sister resulted in the move to America. The chance meeting of Ethan with the photographer resulted in dramatic changes in the tapestry of his life, as happens in our own lives.
Sue Briggs, Stafford
“May the road rise up to meet you” begins a traditional Gaelic blessing wishing the traveler a successful journey. It is a fitting title for a novel that follows a young Irish lad, Ethan McOwen, who reads the “Odyssey” and makes a perilous journey of his own from the hunger of Ireland to America, from the slums of New York through the battlefields of the Civil War, from survivor’s guilt to the peace of acceptance. Along the way, Ethan’s story is entwined with other travelers, including Micah the fugitive slave who travels from Richmond to freedom in the North, from the mindset of bondage to the confidence of a free man, and his sweetheart Mary, struggling to escape her fear of making the leap to freedom. Ethan’s wife, Marcella, makes her journey through class and cultural barriers to marry an Irishman and become an abolitionist and advocate of women’s suffrage. As we follow these characters in Peter Troy’s novel, we too wish them “Godspeed.”
Ann Burlingham, Perry
The characters in “May the Road…” are flexible as the threads that stitch the tapestry of their lives. Ethan, while holding on to his memories of his past, adapts to leaving Ireland and to his new life in America, while Mary, amidst the stresses of slave life in the antebellum and Civil War South, shows as many faces as she needs to others to keep herself safe. Each, despite their changing situations, has a narrative to hold on to; Ethan from his precious books, Mary with her stitiching holding her life story together. The ways of seeing their lives and life itself they have been given by women who loved them helps them take their places among the many lives and stories of the changing America they are part of, as America itself takes their lives and makes them part of the story it tells itself and the world.
Eleanor Jacobs, Perry
Gertie used her “stitching” to escape the realities of slavehood and to create beauty in a life of struggled. Gertie’s stitching is also a metaphor for life. Whether for a character in “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You,” or for any of us, life is a spider web of tangled threads, at least on the underside, the private side. The threads of one’s life tie us to people, places and circumstances, often in a chaotic pattern. But the “top side” of our lives can create a much different picture. I think of Mary’s experience on the sale block. People saw a slave. The underside was tangled threads of a life that included the rape by Mr. Grant and the death of Gertie. Or consider Ethan when he met with the New York University official. On the “top side,” Ethan was well turned out. Beneath the surface, Ethan had a tangle of life experience threads that gave him both the strength to endure prejudice but made him doubt himself.
Marcia Riley, Batavia
“History never looks like history when you are living through it.” – John W. Gardner Word by word, story line by story line, “May the Road Rise Up to Meet You,” constructs a saga from the individual lives of four people, unknown to each other, yet thrown together by random circumstance. If at first their stories seem intriguing but disparate, the reader, like Young Mary observing Gertie’s stitchery, is only seeing the tangled threads and knots that ultimately weave themselves together to complete a cohesive picture from the maker’s viewpoint. In “On History,” Thomas Carlyle says that “History is the essence of innumerable biographies.” Peter Troy nudges his readers into a curiosity to learn about “history” (i.e., slavery, the Civil War, the Irish Potato Famine) by exposing the everyday messy details of his characters’ lives. I felt like this was not a book of history as seen through the eyes of the characters, but rather one of characters, whose actions helped create history.
Elizabeth Saleh, Corfu
Peter Troy writes this story in the style of a “stitchin’.” The reader is given little bits of thread in all different colors and of all different types. Black for death, purple for sorrow, red for war, blue for learning, green for growing and even yellow for sunshine and hope. Each color and type of thread makes up the fabric of the story. Each character is made up of both ugly and beautiful threads. The tale incorporates threads or deeds that characters are proud of and threads or deeds that make them feel guilty. The threads criss cross each other having both good and bad consequences. As the characters travel along the “road” of life, the reader sees the bits and pieces of thread come together to create an incredible, sensitive and beautiful tale, especially when “seeing it frontways.”