Refilling the empty nest
In Porter Shreve's follow-up to his acclaimed debut The Obituary Writer, he effectively writes in the voice of a woman coping with an empty nest and the remarriage of her ex-husband to a much younger woman. Lydia Modine is a 61-year-old car historian and writer whose marriage collapsed four years ago. After her three grown children briefly return home to Detroit for her ex's nuptials, an idea is planted in her mind: get the kids to come back home for good, no matter what it takes.
As the tale unfolds, Shreve narrates from the points of view of both Lydia and her 28-year-old daughter Jessica, a discontented health food store employee living in Oregon. As is often the case with mothers and daughters, the relationship between Lydia and Jessica is both fiercely close and fraught with conflict and unspoken resentment. Shreve, despite his gender, proves adept at plumbing the depths of this complex familial connection.
Along with its portrait of family ties, this novel intriguingly delves into the history of Detroit's automobile industry. Shreve weaves real-life figures, including famed GM car designer Harley Earl and Preston Tucker, the independent carmaker whose automobile dream turned into a legendary disaster, into the mix as Lydia studies her auto designer father's connection to them both while researching her latest book.
Drives Like a Dream is the kind of book that can be plowed through in one afternoon; the prose is simple yet smart, with many passages (including a description of Lydia's disastrous date with a quirky environmental extremist who figures prominently in her plan to bring her children home) designed to provoke laughter. Lydia, in her zeal to get what she wants, sometimes comes across as an unsympathetically self-interested character. But human nature, along with family relations, is quite an imperfect thing. And despite its imperfections, Shreve's latest effort is an entertaining read.
Rebecca Krasney Stropoli writes from New York City.