María Amparo Escandón’s González & Daughter Trucking Co.: A Road Novel with Literary License is a deftly crafted story echoing the famous Persian epic tale One Thousand and One Nights. Escandón’s book pivots on the experiences of Libertad González, a young Mexican American woman who has just been sentenced to serve time in the Mexicali Penal Institution for Women. The complex structure of the book reflects insight into the daily life in a women’s prison, the interiority of the main character, and the role of storytelling.
Escandón’s story revolves around Libertad González, the “Daughter” segment of González and Daughter trucking company. Libertad has lived her entire life from the confines of an eighteen wheeler semi-truck with her father, Joaquin González, a literature professor-cum-trucker. Through a series of unfortunate events, Libertad is sentenced to serve in a Mexicali women’s prison as the book commences. In no time flat, Libertad begins unspooling stories to her peers in the guise of a weekly “book club” held in the prison’s library, a crude, makeshift room holding mildewed, ragged tomes. Libertad begins by selecting to read The Three Musketeers, but she never reads a single page from any of the books she selects in the book club. Instead, they are the façade for her own storytelling. Soon, Libertad parlays the book club into a standing-room only affair that is anxiously anticipated by the female inmates.
On first glance, it seems similar to the telling of One Thousand and One Nights by that story’s protagonist, Scherherazade, who recounts a story with multiple parts to save her from being killed by the king Shahryrar. In One Thousand and One Nights, the king has become angered by his wife’s infidelity, so he has her executed. Then, he proceeds to find a new virginal wife and proceeds to kill her after one day of marriage to him. All the virgins have been handed over except for his political advisor’s daughter, Scherherazade. Reluctantly, his advisor turns over his own daughter to the king; however, Scherherzade’s life is spared, as each night she spins out a story for the king. Each of those stories ends on a cliff hanger ending, thus sparing Scherherazade one more day of life.
There are parallels to the epic Persian story in the structure of Escandón’s unique book and also in the moral lessons that are seemingly conveyed to her audience. Libertad’s stories, which are a cover for her own personal group therapy sessions, are yarns spun out from her own life. Yet like Scherherazade’s storytelling, Libertad’s stories features many dollops of fiction and a light sprinkling of fact. There are accounts of her child birth, her mother’s death, her father’s previous life as a literature professor, her own education from the confines of the truck cab, and the eventual story of what landed her in prison. But like Scherherzade, Libertad’s stories are full of themes and morals—patriarchy and the strictures placed on Mexican women; lust and desire; ethical dilemmas and much more.
Admittedly, I initially thought this was a quirky, quaint story. However, the more pages I turned, the more I realized Escandón’s meticulous crafting. The “story within a story” structure is interspersed with Libertad’s actions in the prison, and notably, her personal reflections in her journal. Telling one’s story under the duress of the most difficult experience of one’s life is not a novel plot device, but this is the first story I have ever read where the protagonist uses a roll of delicate toilet paper as a journal, as it takes her months to save her meager prison wages in order to purchase a notebook.
Libertad appears to be an unreliable narrator. Only in the interior life, which is rendered largely from the writing sessions Libertad begins on the roll of toilet paper, do we get closer to the actual events that are transpiring devoid of the hyperbole often found in the weekly book club meetings. So there are two versions of the life story, one told in Libertad’s journal and the other in her storytelling sessions with the library group. The book reveals deep meaning on the nature of storytelling. Is the purpose of a story to convey a gripping tale replete with romance, deceit, friendship, and ransom? Or, is the purpose of a story to convey a moral? In this memorable book, Escandón succeeds at doing both.
The book features many themes including storytelling, “meta” narrative, patriarchy, misogyny, violence, women’s friendship, trucker culture, and corruption. If you enjoy uniquely structured narratives, stories within stories, morality tales, strong female characters, or Latinx literature, then this book is for you.
González & Daughter Trucking Co.: A Road Novel with Literary License
By María Amparo Escandón
295 pages. 2005.
Buy it here.