The Lost Traveler (1958, 1995)
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Set in the Oklahoma Panhandle and western Kansas, Babb's second novel broadens the story of a young woman's struggle to free herself from the destructive chaos of a dysfunctional family into a penetrating inquiry of kinship roles and obligations. Illuminating the dark corners of relationships obscured by invisible loyalties, in The Lost Traveler Babb focuses on the conflict between Robin, the daughter, and her father, Des Tannehill, a charming but tyrannical man based on Sanora's own father, whose life as professional gambler brings alternately brief joys and enduring hardships to the family.
A long time between conception and publication as a novel, owing to the deeply sensitive nature of the subject, The Lost Traveler is an empathetic act of literary vindication by means of which the daughter-author (Babb) reaches a mature understanding and forgiveness of the turbulent conditions circumscribing her childhood and early adulthood.
In remembering her early years on the western plains Sanora Babb brought to bear a subtle yet powerful critique of social forces that weigh upon a family condemned for transgressing a community's moral standards. Submitting smalltown pecuniary interests and patriarchal power structures to scrutiny, Babb's novel tells a tragic story of conflicting obligations and unfulfilled needs. In its penetrating depiction of character and social circumstance The Lost Traveler wisely avoids the generalizations about family life that ascribe fault to a single gender group, class or race of people—or place the blame with "society."