On Daughters And The Kindness Of Strangers

For perspective, know that I read Rachel Kushner’s In The Company Of Truckers while traveling 4,500 miles aboard a Dreamliner to visit my twenty-something daughter. This information is relevant. I promise.

In case you’re not familiar, Kushner—who also wrote the Man Booker Prize finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning The Mars Room and the National Book Award Finalist and New York Times Ten Best Book Of The Year The Flame Throwers—is a fierce and courageous author. She packs herself within her writing.

Lived experience, of course, is typically a necessary ingredient before a story can capably and genuinely arrest attention. As creative writing instructor Professor Taub (Viveca Lindfors) exhorts student Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) in the 1985 Rob Reiner flick The Sure Thing:

“Your paper is dry. There’s not enough of you coming through. Loosen up, Alison. Have some fun. Sleep when you feel like it, not when you think you should. Eat food that is bad for you, at least once in a while. Have conversations with people whose clothes are not color coordinated. Make love in a hammock! Life is the ultimate experience. You have to experience it in order to write about it.”

Certainly, Kushner’s had some fun. She’s assuredly familiar with folks whose clothes don’t match. She lives life. Some 20 years of her work collected within The Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020 makes that fact evident.

But one story—In The Company Of Truckers—surfaced particularly strong sentiments when I read the piece at 40,000 feet while crossing the Pacific. The essay so effectively captures vulnerability fathers often feel for daughters that I required a pause before continuing to the collection’s next story.

The seemingly sterile and inhospitable confines of a Boeing 787 traveling nearly 600 miles an hour has that effect on many, but make no mistake. Kushner’s insight and capacity capturing the emotion so many fathers feel seeking to protect their daughters while simultaneously providing the freedom and independence necessary for them to fulfill their own unique dreams and ambitions are to credit.

The essay is personally and strikingly poignant. Maybe I found the story compelling because my friends drove 310-horsepower 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes and 1979 Pontiac Trans-Ams with 6.6-liters of displacement. Possibly the piece struck home because I experience the worry and anxiety natural to a parent whose kid moves vast distances away. Or maybe because I, too, have enjoyed mashing the throttle on a five-liter, four-barrel-powered American muscle car did Kushner’s inspiration and mischievousness prove immediately relatable.

Regardless, I challenge you to read Kushner’s essay and remain unaffected. One thing’s certain. The story is consistent with the holiday season’s spirit and reminds readers of the importance of occasionally being “overwhelmed by kindness.”

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