The automobile is one of the inanimate objects most subject to the practice of personification. How many besotted car owners have referred to their shiny vehicle as “she” and stroked the hood as one would perhaps stroke a woman? In All I Have in This World, novelist Michael Parker’s eighth novel, a sky blue Buick Electra is as much a character as any other. Readers follow the car, in nonlinear fashion, from its birth to death; what comes in between is compelling, although the story takes a bit of time to rev up.
The two main human characters here are Maria and Marcus, who meet in the West Texas car lot where the 20-year-old Buick Electra has most recently landed. Maria is a young woman returning to her hometown for the first time since an extremely traumatic event drove her away 10 years ago. Marcus is a middle-aged man whose North Carolina business venture has failed, leaving him homeless, jobless and aimless. When his bad luck extends to having his truck stolen in Texas, he sees the Buick as his possible salvation. Maria, having lived a life of walking and taking public transportation, is at the lot to purchase her very first car. She, too, is instantly attracted to the Buick. It isn’t long before they make the improbable agreement to purchase the car together and alternate the days they will drive it.
How that seemingly preposterous agreement came to be is told through their backstories and the history of the Buick itself. Each previous owner has an emotional motive for unloading the car, some more believable than others but all pointing to the tradition of auto anthropomorphism.
As these stories weave into those of Maria and Marcus, both before and after the Buick purchase, another theme emerges as well: that of the past attached to so many objects we come to own. When you buy a used book or piece of furniture or article of clothing, how often do you consider the lives of those who possessed them before you? Or of those who created them? This initially slow-going but ultimately rewarding novel allows the reader to ponder this in a fresh and moving way.