Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Brief Review of Scott Olsen's At Speed: Traveling the Long Road between Two Points.



Hi folks-- sometimes you can't tell a book by its cover. Scott Olson's at speed has a very nice photographic cover featuring the center line of a curving road with foliage left and right and mountains in the distance. And on the back cover there are four testimonials about this road narrative, by authors, English professors and book people. Despite all the good things on the surface, for me this work was a disappointment. It features five road travel stories, and shorter excerpts from road trips that were contained in the author's notebooks. Frankly, these narratives feature quick stops along the way, a few people scattered and mentioned only in passing, descriptions of the land (but not that powerfully done), the on and off inclusion of some details about the Jeep that he drives, and time and distance when appropriate. Yet, character and humanity is never more than dealt with superficially -- even in the case of the author. We never deeply explore the writer's psyche, although we learn a bit about his family along the way. The towns on these extended road trip are rarely explored, and the people -- waitresses, hotel clerks, gas station attendants, etc., are just a passing fancy, again nearly monolithic. Yes, at speed we really get to know little about the world we are traversing. Is that the real point of this exercise? Scott has some very interesting travel plans that he follows through on , including a trip from, Key West to Alaska that if done in a better fashion, would have been illuminating. Every trip is different, every path unique, every character special, but I did not see any of this to my satisfaction in At Speed. The driver, the machine, the land, and the townsfolk, all need more explication that we read here. Why write this, if so half done in the end? Or maybe this is what mdoern life is all about, and why so many people are dissatisfied with their lives? To develop this tehme more would have transformed this book into a powerful contemporary statement.

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