Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: "The Grand Tour" by Adam O'Fallon Price

Richard Lazar was once a writer with promise. His first novel garnered some acclaim but his subsequent work never quite connected with the public, and quickly disappeared. After two failed marriages and a disastrous relationship with his daughter, Richard finds himself fat, old, and drunk, and living in a trailer in the middle of Arizona.

"The nice part about being young wasn't really being young; it was not being old."

It's as much a surprise to him that his memoir of his time as a soldier in Vietnam has received some of the best reviews of his career. People are suddenly paying attention to him for the first time in his life, and more than that, they want to hear him read. His publisher sends him out on a book tour, although given his penchant for indulging in more than a healthy dose of "liquid courage" before a reading or interview, often with less-than-stellar results.

At a college in Washington, Richard meets Vance Allerby, the awkward young president of the Richard Lazar fan club. (There's currently only one member, but that could change at any time.) Vance's admiration of Richard borders on hero worship, and he is hoping Richard will read the novel Vance has been writing and give him advice, possibly open a few doors for him, so he can stop living with his troubled mother, working a dead-end job, and wondering if he will ever amount to anything. But his meeting Richard, and Richard's behavior during and after his scheduled reading, not to mention the advice he gives Vance, couldn't be further than what Vance had hoped.

To make it up to him, Richard invites Vance to drive him to the rest of the West Coast stops on his book tour. Vance jumps at the chance to spend more time with someone he admires, but he has no idea what he's in for. He doesn't realize that driving Richard means caring for, practically babysitting, Richard, and watching his self-destructive behavior continue declining. Richard never seems to learn his lesson, despite the toll this self-abuse is taking on his health, his relationships, and his literary reputation. But it's possible, too, that Richard isn't the only one in need of rescue.

"In a general sense, Vance felt he'd spent his whole life around adults who acted like children, who needed constant tending to and worrying over, and a glance at the passenger seat didn't help to dispel the feeling that he might easily take on the same role with Richard."

The Grand Tour is an interesting look at two men who couldn't be more different and yet who are strangely the same in many ways. This is a book about coping with lifelong disappointment no matter how long your life has been, and how even when you know what path you need to take to change things, you're often unable or even unwilling to follow it. It's also a book about the relationship between parent and child, both biological and surrogate, and how easy it is to let down those who care about us the most.

Adam O'Fallon Price does a good job in creating these characters who are definitely more than meets the eye, although that doesn't mean they're particularly sympathetic. The book takes a while to build up steam, and in some places reminded me of many other literary or cinematic road trips. After a while, though, the book really becomes a bit of a downer, because the characters never seem to make headway, and you wonder just how much worse Price can make their situations.

While somewhat predictable, Price does throw in a surprise or two. He's a talented writer, and despite their faults, he keeps you interested in his characters, even if you're not sure whether it's an empathetic interest or a can't-look-away-from-the-trainwreck kind of interest.

NetGalley and Doubleday provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

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