“The Road to Bountiful,” by Donald Smurthwaite, is, at first glance, a simple story of a young man searching for answers. Levi Crowne is disappointed that he, a college business major, has landed a low-end grocery store job for the summer while others seem to be speeding along through life, settling in on careers and lasting relationships.
Sensing he is already at a dead end, Levi jumps at the opportunity to earn some quick money when his aunt wants to hire him to drive her father from North Dakota to his new residence at a retirement home in Utah.
The fact that there is more to the story is hinted at early, even in his great uncle’s name — Loyal — the name of the rest home — Glad Tidings Assisted Living Facility — and the town — Bountiful. Gradually, as they travel along, rich lessons begin to unfold.
With chapters written first from Loyal’s point of view, in beautifully descriptive phrasing, and then from Levi’s, in more contemporary language, the book is not only a “coming of age” story about Levi’s discoveries, it is also filled with lessons for Loyal and for every reader, regardless of age.
In Levi’s words, Smurthwaite writes, “I have to admit something else as we blast down the highway. I had underestimated the man sitting next to me in the car. I’m starting to kind of like Uncle Loyal.” At the same time, Levi realizes, “People have underestimated me for so much of my life. Everyone has something to offer.”
Later in their journey, Levi looks over at Loyal and realizes, “I feel something, and that’s what counts. Loyal’s needs had become more important than mine.”
This instructive and interesting novel is free from vulgar language or situations. It's understood that both Levi and Loyal are member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and there are some subtle references to Mormon teachings, the messages are far from preachy.
They come instead in candid discussions between Levi and Loyal about love, friendship and life itself and in shared experiences with being stuck, learning to fish and staying in seedy places along the way.
They come as the two men experience the journey of a lifetime — all on “The Road to Bountiful.”
Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces cecilymarkland.com, a calendar of LDS events in Arizona.