a literary review
Amy Butcher’s latest memoir recounts her brief but momentous adventure with the only woman tanker driver on the treacherous Alaska highway made famous by the Ice Road Truckers series.
An accomplished essayist, memoir writer, college professor and mentor, Butcher harbored a secret that weighed upon her, emotionally isolating her from the life she modeled for her impressionable students. At home, she was enduring incremental abuse from her partner, a man spiritually conflicted, aiming his venom at her. In desperation to connect her outward persona with the fearful, foundering victim within, Butcher turned to doom scrolling. In our interview, she says, “I was looking to Instagram as both an escape mechanism and as a numbing agent to deflect what I was experiencing in my personal life.” That’s when she found Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, a 50-year-old woman living in an adventurous, beautiful world far, far removed from the author’s. Joy Wiebe was independent, fearless, and hanging tough in a landscape dominated by men – all the things Butcher sought to be. Wiebe was also generous and instinctively maternal, inviting the 30-year-old professor from Ohio to ride along with her.
As they traveled the James W. Dalton Highway, “the most dangerous road in America, 414 miles of gravel and occasional pavement that extends north from Fairbanks, Alaska, to the industrial town of Deadhorse and the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay,” the two women bonded, despite their differences. Butcher had expected to write about Wiebe’s experience with sexual harassment in a male-dominant industry. Instead, she learned that the highway was where Wiebe blossomed, where she truly embodied her Mothertrucker persona. Thus, the book veered in an unexpected direction. Another shift occurred when Wiebe was killed in a rollover crash on the Dalton highway mere months after their trip together.
The result is a nuanced memoir in which the author interweaves her story of abuse with the road trip adventure and the two women’s deep connection. She also manages to reflect upon violence against women, what it means to be religious, tensions between the oil-rig economy and Indigenous lands and culture, the many dualities inherent in American culture, including “the performance and then the reality behind so many domestic scenes,” and the way women carry one another. Yes, the author succeeds in advocating for visibility, but she also succeeds in advocating for women helping women, holding one another up. In Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe’s words: “Women support other women. It’s the most important thing.”
Amy Butcher is an award-winning essayist and author of the 2015 memoir Visiting Hours (Blue Rider Press / Penguin Random House) and additional work that has appeared in the New York Times, Granta, Harper’s, The Iowa Review, Lit Hub, Guernica, Brevity, and others. Mothertrucker is in development to be a major motion picture by Makeready Films, directed by the Primetime Emmy-winning creator of “Transparent” and “I Love Dick,” Joey Soloway, and starring Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Julianne Moore. Excerpts from Mothertrucker earned a 2020 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and Amy’s additional work has benefited from awards and grants from the Vermont Studio Center, the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, the Stanley Awards for International Research, and the Olive B. O’Connor Fellowship in Creative Writing from Colgate University. Her essay, “On Images of Violence,” earned a notable distinction in the Best American Essays 2021 series, guest edited by Kathryn Schulz. She earned her MFA from the University of Iowa and presently serves as the director of creative writing and an associate professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University. Amy teaches annually at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival and the Sitka Fine Arts Camp in Sitka, Alaska, and she lives in Ohio with her three rescue dogs. For more information visit www.amyebutcher.com.