The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison

The Spark and the Drive
“When we are not sure, we are alive.”

So says Graham Greene. Personally, I am not a person who enjoys uncertainty, despite frequently feeling so. When I graduated from college, I was absolutely clueless as to what I wanted to do. Well…that is not entirely true. I wanted to do what every archaeology and geology double major wants to do – I wanted to be Indiana Jones.  I was reasonable enough to realize that my fantasies of adventurous academia were unrealistic. Instead, I spent the summer after college graduation reading anything I could, which was quite a bit (unemployment will allow for such things). One of the books I picked up was Insomnia by Stephen King. Helen, a rather minor character, is a librarian with her Master in Library Science degree. Boom. Career uncertainty solved. I applied to graduate school the next week. I’ll never know if I made the right choice, but it was nice to finally have chosen a path.

“Mary Ann’s right,” he said. you’d better go to college. But if you ever happened that you takeoff a semester or whatever, come see me. Don’t tell her I said so.”

We shook hands and he walked me downstairs, where the TV was on. Mary Ann rose from the couch and gave me a hug, and I shivered a little in my chest, but only after I was a few miles from their house, following a shortcut he’d told me to 84, did I turn off the radio and let myself free fall into the dizzying thrill of what he had said.

Sometimes that’s all it takes – a single paragraph in an otherwise unremarkable novel or an off the cuff remark from a friend. The latter (and the passage above) is how, in 1985, Justin chooses to be a mechanic at a shop run by the brilliant Nick and his wife Mary Ann. There he finds the comfort and family he lacked in his own home and especially in school (“If withstanding loneliness was a form of conditioning, then my high school years should have made me a marathon champion of being alone”), but when tragedy strikes the golden couple, everything begins to unravel. As Nick loses his edge and Mary Ann distances herself, Justin finds himself falling for her and betraying the one man who has been consistently good to him.

“The vision ends there, and I stay with it until the same bristle comes, the same bold dreams of transformation. I want to speak, to tell her the word she wanted, and to talk to them with the words I have now, as the husband, the father, the man at last. But the man can’t change the boy, and anything I tell them they couldn’t hear.”

With The Spark and the Drive*, Wayne Harrison has written a remarkable debut novel. This coming of age story is original, complex, and gritty. Outwardly, if seems like it could epitomize masculine literature – it’s about a teenage boy who loves muscle cars and idolizes the mechanic teaching him – but it never falls into that trap. Instead, it’s a poignant tale of loss, love, uncertainty, growing up and saying goodbye in the ways we least expect it. Harrison is certainly an author I will follow up with in the future. Highly, highly recommended for fans of literary fiction.

So the question of the day: Did anyone else want to be Indiana Jones? If, by chance, you didn’t (and, if you didn’t, I have to ask – who are you?), were you the type that had your career all planned out or did you just fall into it like I did?

Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips

Pair this novel with Salt and Vinegar Kale Chips (via Foodess)… “And there was baked kale  with drizzled olive oil and rice vinegar, and this I couldn’t stop shoveling…”. I promise, they taste much better than they look.

*I was provided with a review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinion.

8 thoughts on “The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison

  1. I fell into my career as well. My mom said I always acted like a teacher. I remember playing it often and always making my sister be the teacher, so maybe it was natural born within me? But when I hit high school my condition for a degree was that it had to deal with books and reading the rest of my life. And with my very limited knowledge of career choices, that meant teaching English. Ends up I am well suited for it and my mom would smack me if I ever fully said I fell into it.

    And, kale chips are amazing! I am in no way a health food eater at all. Fried food all the way, but kale chips are soooo good.


  2. I kind of fell into my career as well. Everyone else who was studying the same thing as me were headed for careers in town planning. I didn’t want to approve people’s renovations (which was somewhat worrying because: what the hell would I do?). At the same time I was swim coaching. And I thought “If I could just combine planning and water…” And then I majored in hydrology and water resource management. Not many people do that. And then I did a Masters in Public Relations. And then suddenly I was qualified to run community education programs about water quality, macro-invertebrates and how to care for rivers. I felt extraordinarily lucky.

    That said, I’m in the process of a career change (but something that sill combines science and communication).


  3. I’m not generally attracted to books which have cars on the cover, but this one sounds excellent. I guess it was pretty likely you were going to be a fan given that Richard Russo blurbed it.


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