Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Summer Road Trip, Anyone?

Happy day after Independence Day, USA! It's July 5th and time to talk about road trips or road trip novels anyway. Road trip novels are, after all, about as American as French Fries which is to say that there is a distinctly American road trip novel, but that road trip stories go way way back, way before novels, way Europeans came to America, way back to the origins of literature itself.

100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith culminates in a distinctly American road trip. The book centers around Finn Easton's Junior year and his preparations for an end-of-year road trip with his best friend Cade Hernandez--a larger than life prankster, genius and major-league-quality pitcher, who can't stop talking about his "boners"--to check out a potential university in Oklahoma. Finn has never left his home state of California, partly because he's an epileptic who passes out unpredictably while experiencing mind-expanding visions of reality, including ghosts.

Andrew Smith, author of Winger and The Marbury Lens, has a reputation for a wild and extreme stories. This novel is no exception. Finn's backstory includes standing as a little boy beneath a bridge with his mom and being struck by the carcass of dead horse that fell from the bridge above. The horse killed his Mother and left him with a odd scar and a case of epilepsy. Finn also shares a great deal in common with the main character in his father's best selling alien invasion novel. He kind of worries he may be an alien himself (or maybe just a metaphorical one). From all of this Finn has developed an obsession with the way objects travel through space. The title, 100 Sideways Miles, is derived from the distance the Earth, and thus the dead horse along with it, traveled sideways through space in the time it took the horse to fall from the bridge. Somehow Finn must find a way out of his weird life, step out from the shadow of his best friend, understand his mysterious new girlfriend and escape from his father's novel. A road trip with Cade Hernandez turns out to be just the ticket.

100 Sideways Miles is a particularly masculine novel, a quality that's both a little refreshing and a little off putting. Finn and Cade make playful homophobic jokes almost constantly, though neither character really is homophobic. Disturbing aspects of a female character's past are raised but quickly forgotten. Finn and Cade's insensitivity feels realistic and might be forgivable (they are high school boys, after all) but the book also feels like it belongs to a different era.

Still, 100 Sideways Miles takes you on the road to a perspective that's both startlingly strange and absolutely familiar.

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