Monica Byrne’s The Girl In the Road is, fundamentally, one of those novels of the road, all about a journey both physical and (inevitably) spiritual and metaphorical and what-not as well. In fact, it’s actually two of those stories, told interweavingly, and with the relationship between them unclear for a while.

So Byrne, who is “an American able-bodied, middle-class, mostly straight cis white” woman, has written an essay arguing that people like her should write stories about… well, the protagonist of this story: a queer mentally-ill Indian woman (who is in a relationship with a trans woman). I don’t have any opinion worth noting about the ethics of that argument, but from the purely artistic side, I think this novel argues against her.

Because while I’m sure Byrne did a ton of research and tried to write from experience and ran it by sensitivity readers and what-not, the protagonist just seemed a bit… off. She read like… well, like she was someone with Byrne’s background, rather than the background she actually has in the story. (And no, this isn’t just my seeing what I expected. I actually assumed at first that Byrne was Indian despite her name, and only when the book was feeling a bit weird, I googled her, and found that essay.)

But I don’t know, it’s not like the story would be improved if the protagonist were a white girl from Massachusetts. And you could make a case that this is set in the future when India is a prosperous and dominant world power, so maybe an Indian woman of that time should feel more like a modern American. Ultimately, my biggest problem with the novel isn’t about that anyway—it is, simply, that it’s unpleasant to read a first-person travelogue when you super-hate the protagonist, who is basically a straight-up antihero, just doing a string of horrid things for the whole book.

Obviously lots of people love them a good antihero—antihero shit is a super-popular genre. And at least this one isn’t yet another angry white dude, so there’s that. But yeah, still not for me. If you like your protagonists unpleasant and unconvincing, you’ll probably enjoy this a lot more than I did.


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