Book Review: The Road to Guanajuato by Joe Livernois (Reviewed by Sarah Melton)

Sometimes reflection upon ones past is the best possible way to get a glimpse into ones future.  Mr. Livernois’ detailed and refreshingly candid account of a reunion with his 80 year old estranged father, The Road to Guanajuato, is a prime example of such.

Joe Livernois was the eldest child in a large Catholic family, with a severely bipolar father and a hardworking (and often self-sacrificing) mother.  They grew up fast in a flurry of fear, disappointment, uncertainty, and all the usual chaos that comes with living with a mentally unbalanced parent.  After a particularly mortifying encounter with his father in his adult life, they parted ways and remained estranged for nearly 23 years…until a series of events caused them to reconnect online, eventually leading to an apprehensive gathering of the Livernois siblings and thier father, to celebrate his 80th birthday – in the small, traditional village of Loma, Mexico.

Yes, he’s in Loma.  Not Guanajuato, the town his father had originally attempted to journey to, but the quirky, unexpected place he wound up.  Much like the writers own life and the lives of his siblings, this story isn’t about reaching the destination they were working towards, but the unexpected and often eye-opening experiences that can happen to make that previously sought destination seem well-nigh irrelevant by comparison.

The events of the trip, many of which involved attempts at entertainment interrupted by the uncontrolled outbursts of his infirm father, were not so much the driving force of the memoir as the emotions and insight gained during those times. The heart of the story was found amid the simplest of conversations, as well as the searching reflections on the authors own fears and insecurities as a parent & husband, his religious upbringing, and his perceptions of the people around him.  While not without bias in some respects (i.e. his views on Catholicism and his initial apprehension towards certain aspects of Mexican culture) it’s overall as honest and searching as an account this personal can be.

About the reviewer: Sarah Melton is a published author. You can find a number of her short stories in the Flash Fiction collections at

I especially respect the writer for the fairness in which he wrote of his father, making it less of a harrowing account of his more violent transgressions, a-la “Mommie Dearest” and more of a window into the mind of a bi-polar man, struggling to make a normal life for himself amid the flurry of manic “ups” and crushing “downs” that such a condition inflicts.  Throughout the visit, the writer managed to find a budding (albeit fragile) acceptance of the path his father had taken, and the friends he surrounded himself with.  He could see his father as he truly was, and not as the monster from his past – and with that sight and understanding, their relationship grew into something that – while far from perfect – was far more than he had hoped for upon starting the journey.

I highly recommend this memoir, available both in print and online (through the Monterey County Herald and other sites), to anyone who has felt the need to find a new connection with an estranged parent, to understand a mindset they couldn’t quite comprehend, and to find in their adult life a closeness with their family that they just couldn’t find in the relative madness of their youth.  In other words, I’d recommend it for just about anyone.

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