Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Book Review: "All I Have in This World" by Michael Parker

Michael Parker's All I Have in This World is a beautifully written, poignant, sometimes meandering novel about two people damaged by their mistakes and the aftermath of them, and an old car that somehow binds them together in a strange way.

Maria fled her home in Pinto Canyon, Texas just at the end of high school, when a life-changing decision she made resulted in a tragedy she couldn't escape. Ten years have gone by, and Maria has stayed away from Texas, and barely kept in touch with her mother. Maria has moved from place to place, job to job, and, at times, from man to man, although the holes in her life have yet to be filled. But she makes the decision to return home for a little while, and is surprised by how much she is still affected by the events that caused her departure.

Marcus dreamed of breeding Venus flytraps, and building a farm and educational center for them on his family's acreage in a small North Carolina town. But Marcus' lack of business and museum acumen, as well as his lack of foresight, has led to the bank foreclosing on and seizing the land, land which partially belongs to his sister. Marcus decides to leave North Carolina and head for Mexico, with the money he was able to salvage, and did not share with his sister what happened. A stop along the way in Pinto Canyon for a hike along the Rio Grande results in his truck getting stolen with nearly everything he owned inside.

Maria and Marcus meet at a used car lot. Both are looking for a car—Maria to avoid having to share with her mother, and Marcus to be able to head to Mexico as he originally planned. The two both set their eyes on the same car, a 1984 sky blue Buick Electra. In a snap decision, the pair agrees to share the car, regardless of the fact that they had never really met (or introduced themselves, for that matter), and both have different plans for the car. But they agree to use the car on alternate days, as both try to gain some footing again in their world.

All I Have in This World tells the story of two people desperately trying to hang on and make some sense of their lives, and find a way forward that doesn't involve giving up. Both need to come to terms with what they've done and move on, but neither can seem to handle either of those monumental steps. As life pushes in around them, they are both unsure of what to do next—face their problems or flee again?

This book also tells the story of the Buick Skylark through the years, from when it was first transported from the factory as a young girl with a heart problem watches the car trailer drive past, to the various people whose lives the car touched through the years, until it wound up on the used car lot where Marcus and Maria found it. For its previous owners, the car was both a point of pride and pain, a talisman and a bittersweet reminder.

Michael Parker is tremendously skilled, and he has created two characters with so much depth and pain in their lives, not all of it their own making. I felt as if the story took a bit to get going, as really the book hit its stride once Maria and Marcus met, but both of their stories are tremendously compelling. At times the book is a little hard to follow, and I felt that the ending was a little more ambiguous than I would have liked, but in the end, this book has stuck with me. I felt for Marcus and Maria and their struggles, and would like to know more about whether they were able to put their pasts behind them and find happiness. A unique, interesting, and emotionally rich book.

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