Driver’s Education by Grant Ginder

Reviewed for New York Journal of Books
by Stevie Godson

Driver's EducationIT’S not very often that I agree with book “blurbs,” which tend to be embarrassingly over-the-top paeans of praise for the contents, encouraged (paid for?) by the publisher and presumably approved by the author.

The blurb for this book, though, underplays its awesomeness. Grant Ginder’s novel Driver’s Education is, indeed, as it says: “In the tradition of Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, a poignant and eccentric novel about fathers, sons and the power of stories to change the way we see the world ….” But it’s so much more than that.

Ostensibly, it’s about reality show assistant story editor Finn trying to fulfill his dying grandfather Alistair McPhee’s wish to have returned to him his ’56 Chevy Bel Air, named Lucy after his dead wife. It’s a favour involving a cross-country road trip from New York – where Finn must retrieve the ancient car from an enigmatic man named Yip – to San Francisco, accompanied by his somewhat reluctant and grumpy buddy Randal and a three-legged cat named Mrs Dalloway.

There’s a map marked by Finn’s granddad, to which route, the old man says, the motley crew must stick: “When I unfold the paper,” Finn explains, “it smells ancient and important, like newsprint  …. There are cities and towns circled, places my granddad has been …. Artifacts from his unbounded memories.  And then, in the margins, there are new notes: instructions he’s written expressly for me. Like: In Chicago—Never look the Gangster in the eye.”

In a way, Driver’s Education is also the story of Finn’s father Colin, the Screenwriter (the book’s capitalisation), who turned to writing screenplays inspired by the classic films he and Alistair used to watch together, and who struggles to reconnect with the old man even though they’ve been living together again after ill-health knocked the wind out of the elderly adventurer.

In telling the tale, the author manages to wrap unselfconscious quirkiness up in some very fine writing indeed, without ever sacrificing either. A rare feat, in my reading experience, making it one of those – also rare – books from which I want to read aloud just for the joy of hearing precisely how the words have been strung together.

Ginder, who also teaches writing at New York University, where his (lucky) students are required, he says, to form connections between, for example, the essays of John Berger and George Michael videos, has all the necessary tools and talent with which to tap into the cultural zeitgeist of our time.

Not only does he write like a dream, he’s also currently “endeavouring to re-tell Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway through cat pictures”.

Why am I not surprised?

(Driver’s Education by Grant Ginder is published by Simon & Schuster.)


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This entry was posted by stevieg on Saturday, January 12th, 2013 at 9:28 am and is filed under A Passion for Words . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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