Christopher Pike’s ‘Road to Nowhere’ is a dark ride
Despite its title, road to nowhere has a conclusive end. And a mighty one, at that. Christopher PikeThe 1993 novel puts its troubled protagonist behind the wheel and follows her every move and thought as she drives along the California coast one fateful night. The path ahead is unclear, but one thing is certain: Teresa’s life will never be the same after picking up two hitchhikers along the way.
In typical Pike fashion, road to nowhere starts near the middle rather than at the beginning. And the incident causing Teresa Chafey to suddenly take off is unclear until the final two chapters. All readers really know by now that this 18-year-old is upset about something her (ex) boyfriend Bill did, and she thinks running away will make her feel better and him worse. Of course, there is always more to the story than meets the eye. Teresa does indeed say that “Bill was one of the reasons she was running away”, but she also adds that he was “not her only one, nor her greatest”.
A naive driver driving strangers doesn’t end well in the fiction, but Teresa feels lost and alone. Her admittedly odd traveling companions, those with a rich and tangled history, are the distraction she sorely needs from her own troubles. And Freedom “Free” Jack and Poppy Corn are as fun as they are uniquely named. They don’t get along at all, but their specific type of bickering suggests they were a couple at some point.
To break the ice and keep things lively inside the car, the two travelers entertain Teresa with a long and winding anecdote about their friends, John Gerhart and Candice “Candy” Manville. It is a story full of heartbreak and shock, light and dark. In exchange, Teresa reluctantly explains the cause of her unexpected trip. At least the one she believes to be true. All the while, Teresa’s left wrist mysteriously aches and her body becomes feverish with each step of the long journey.
It’s not hard to see why Teresa would be so captivated by John and Candy. Free describes them with deep knowledge and passion. These two entwined souls first met in high school; John was poor, abrasive and smart, while Candy was rich, creative and daydreaming. They eventually fell in love despite their differences, and until one very bad day, they were meant to be together. Unfortunately, this unfortunate incident separated them for several years. Of the road to nowhere bares its fangs as John’s tragic life unfolds in excruciating detail, and Candy’s journey to adulthood is one obstacle after another.
John and Candy are each put in hell. From losing two fingers at work to addiction to painkillers and heroin, John never had a chance to live. And Poppy later explains how Candy had an affair with a professor, got pregnant, and was eventually kicked out of college. Unlike John, however, Candy manages to turn things around; she works hard to become a nurse and take care of her son, reconciles with her parents and finds herself a stable boy. That’s why what happens next hurts especially badly. Pike brings the high school sweethearts together in a mini-mart, only to have them die in each other’s arms.
Free and Poppy’s epic storyline tends to overshadow anything in road to nowhere, including the main character. Yet, as they all approach some kind of end point, it becomes clear that the two strangers’ turbulent tale of the past has everything to do with Teresa’s future. Between the shared narration of her companions, Teresa intermittently divulges her own drama, starting with how Bill betrayed her not once but twice. Not only did Teresa’s former boyfriend go behind her back and audition her private music at a nightclub, but Bill took an interest in Teresa’s best friend, Rene. It’s not like she was caught off guard by the emotional affair; she had an idea since Bill and Rene first met. Still, confirmation of their affair sends Teresa spiraling; she gives in to her immediate emotions and does things she really regrets.
Teresa spinning in circles, never finding a fork, or ever reaching a specific destination after what seems like an eternity is a big clue to what’s to come. The only other signs of life on this dark and stormy night are first in a spooky castle and then in a Catholic church all night. Free escorts Teresa into the castle to meet her “mother”, a woman whose psychic abilities help Teresa understand why Bill drifted towards Rene and why those close to her keep her at bay. And at the church where mass is celebrated in Latin in the middle of the night, Poppy urges Teresa to see her “father” and go to confession.
There is a constant battle between opposing forces in road to nowhere. Whether it’s good and evil, life and death, or, more importantly, the past and the future, Teresa is caught in a mystical tussle of her own making. At the castle, Teresa said she “didn’t want to move on, not yet” and that she “wanted to better understand why his past had died the death he had”. The church scenes represent the future, or rather what awaits Thérèse as long as she continues on this path. She pours her heart out to the priest, admitting to nearly killing Bill and Rene in their sleep, shortly before her road trip. It’s only when the priest asks if there’s more to the story, something forgotten or denied, that Teresa runs away and deprives herself of a different future.
The trio’s final stop is at a mini-market, much like the one where John and Candy perished in a confrontation with the cops. The events of their murderous reunion unfold here with variation; Free now points his gun at the clerk, and Teresa is his accomplice. It’s only now that Teresa finally remembers what happened after she left Bill’s house. The knife she had planned to kill him and Rene with, she took home and used on herself. Now lying in a tub, clinging to life because no one knows she’s dying, Teresa is bleeding from the same wrist that hurt her all night.
Christopher Pike takes the road less traveled in his novel. The author could have easily served up a game of cat and mouse between driver and hitchhiker, but instead he delivers a gripping story of redemption with a significant moral twist in the tail. And while his contemporaries generally eschewed religion in their young adult novels, the intrepid author broached the subject, albeit in a roundabout way. Readers may end up finding themselves more drawn to the story within a story; John and Candy’s narrative bits are terrific and worthy of their own book. Nonetheless, their tragedy — truly Free and Poppy’s, if readers haven’t figured it out yet — completes Teresa’s own journey. And in return, his personal growth gives his passengers their own chance to step out of the past.
There was a time when the children’s section of bookstores was overflowing with horror and suspense. These books were easily identifiable by their flashy fonts and garish covers. This notable subgenre of YA fiction flourished in the 80s, peaked in the 90s, and then finally came to an end in the early 2000s. YA horror of this genre is indeed a thing of the past, but the stories endure at buried in a book. This recurring column reflects the nostalgic novels that still haunt readers decades later.