Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick

I wasn't sold when Lisa from TLC pitched this one to me using words like "gritty" and "harsh."  She wasn't too sure it would appeal to me either.  But then she mentioned Southern Gothic, which is a HUGE love of mine, and also happened to name drop the setting - Waycross, GA.  My mom's family is from Waycross and my Mema and Aunt Barbara still live there.  I've spent holidays there for my whole life.  I HAD to read it when I heard that parts take place in Waycross.

Basically, it's a Southern Gothic novella that follows a ne'er do well good old boy, Billy, who beats his girlfriend and flees town (Waycross) in his daddy's old Cadillac.  When he stops to pick up a mysterious hitchhiker, he is forced to examine his life and how all roads eventually lead home (Waycross again).  Bonus shoutout to Homerville, where I have had my own creepy experiences late at night (long story short - late night, deserted town, telling ghost stories with my siblings while road tripping to Mema's, man appears out of NOWHERE and we all scream and freak out - not neatly as interesting as Helmick's story, but HOMERVILLE!  Another person has heard of this place!)

I was at times impressed and at times wished for more from the writing.  I reviewed a PDF and so I'm thinking some of the issues I had with the writing (inconsistent verb tenses mainly) could have been a pre-release issue as opposed to an issue with the final copy.  My other main issue with the writing is that it's described as a "morality tale."  And I could not for the life of me tell you what the moral of the story is.  I mean other than "don't be a woman-beating jerk".  Which I think most people already have figured out before reading the book.  Billy is a bad man and he deserves the bad things that happen to him.  So I'm not really sure how it's a morality tale, other than when you do bad things, lots of times bad things happen to you in return.

Entertainment Value
I was totally into the story.  As far as entertainment value is concerned, I was hooked.  I read it quickly and easily and I think the length is perfect for the story Helmick is telling.  I wouldn't add or take away any of it.  I loved the whole "devil went down to Georgia"/"mysterious hitchhiker - OR IS SHE" thing the story had going.  It's a very familiar story, but I think that Helmick put his own spin on it.  It certainly feels Southern and certainly has the gothic elements I was looking for.

It is, however, certainly gritty.  More gritty than my typical read, but not so gritty that I couldn't handle reading it.  The language is more explicit than I prefer, but fitting for the story.  And I loved that Helmick included several "Southernisms" that I recognized (What's your name? Puddin' Tane...)  There are also assault descriptions, including an attempted sexual assault, but nothing more graphic than you'd read in your typical thriller.

If Southern Gothic is your thing, or if you're a fan of grit, or if you're a fan of that somewhat supernatural Southern setting, I think this one is worth trying out.  It's not a long or difficult read, so the time commitment isn't huge, and I found the story to be incredibly entertaining.