Drive by Andrew McCallum Crawford, Book Review
A Fine, New Novel Sure to Please -Drive!
Scottish writer Andrew McCallum Crawford has just come out with his first novel, "Drive!"
According to the back cover, Drive! is about Terry, a rich, golden boy with that grand conundrum of the Human Condition: what to do with the rest of his life after college ends. While this is truly the basic framework of the tale, there is a second major component to the plot, and that is the band Drive! (not to be confused with a lesser band that once called itself "Drivel"). In point of fact, Terry is but on the peripheral of the entire first half of the tale so glaringly, that at times it really seems like the main character being written about is the drummer of Drive!, Sammy, though this is a minor point worthy of little criticism. Ultimately, the two sub-plots come together to form a masterful vehicle that pushes the story along as it careens through the Scottish pub and university scenes of the 1980's. If you're not familiar with this time and setting, you may be as lost as I was initially. However, trudge on!
Drive! opens with a quote from Plato -but not the Plato you might be thinking of. Despite such a seemingly ancient reference, the novel is exceedingly modern in that -like an MTV Video of the 1980's, each situation, like a video image, quickly passes into another, often disparate situational images, so that boredom simply cannot be germinated. Peppered with numerous sub-plots and supporting characters, at points one even questions which character is which, as in a tango twixt hermaphrodites of equal will, and both equally vying to lead. This makes the story twitter with further tension, as it highlights the panorama of lives showcased as they slowly converge upon one another, in a verbal orgy that all-the-while entertains the reader towards ever-heightening crescendos of "Ohhhhh, yes!"
Drive! has that very British feel about it in that there is no beating about the bush- action happens and it just happens -without the extraneous reflection or descriptions which many contemporary writers are so apt to produce (with the possible exception of James Michener, who could so expertly though at times, tediously, take 14 pages to describe the genesis and inner workings of a volcano). No, this is no tale by Michener, but a story that the author, Andrew McCallum Crawford, needs to tell and so does, with only but a hint of flourish or verbal garnish, much to his credit.
Beginning at the speed of a brave soul driving on a country road where there are few cars and even fewer police, Drive! slows down by page 15 for awhile. Yet in the course of patience, it pulls out of second gear quickly enough, making the rest of the ride one of joy and intrigue that most readers will find tasty. For those seeking the post-modern, Hollywood-driven story that immediately bashes you over the head with shiny verbal baubles, bells, and whistles, this isn't it. But buck up and be assured: the story decidedly picks up even more steam in chapter 2. Further, by Chapter 16, when we realize the book to be a comedic tale of revenge. This a story easy to get lost in -and so attention to detail is a bit necessary.
There are a few odd nuances that should be noted. For instance, the use of the word "goodness" that at times is sprinkled about the tale as an exclamation. This seems the type of surprised, punctuated verbal ejaculative that a religious purist would utter, not members of a Scottish band or anyone associated with them -not even the narrative voice describing them. "Goodness" seems out of place --"damn" or even the softer utterance "my" would have been so much more in the tone of the story, as for instance on page 146, which reads "It was like being on an express train... Goodness, but he knew how to work an audience."
The only truly harsh criticism that can be made is the one part of the plot that doesn't seem to jibe well with the way humans react to opportunity. Without creating a plot spoiler, suffice it to say that Terry's decision at the end of Chapter 15 doesn't seem likely (though in the author's defense, is still plausible), particularly given Terry's quick loss of cool in exchange for near-desperation. Yet, after all, humans -real or fictional, have done stranger, more capricious things.
On the whole, however, the tale and its construction are spot on, as with such well-conceived lines as "...young Terry was a strapping example of the fitter line of Scottish chromosones" (p. 30), and "...toying with the remains of a pint." (p. 52) (hypercharacteristically British in vernacular), and there are also numerous succulent morsels of a comedic nature that might even bring about remembrance of The Full Monty (see below) such as mention of a play called "No Sex, Please, We're Scottish" (p. 16) (surely a take-off from the Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott play or the Cliff Owen movie, both of similar, if more British-leaning names); "The ambulance farted smoke and pulled out into the street" (p. 82); "I blame [Scottish comedian] Billy Connolly, but then that's the fashionable thing to do these days." (p. 87); or the younger woman who suffers from "Mild Turettes by Proxy [sic]" which makes other people around her "curse under their breath." (p. 89)
Further, there is even a nod that will be well received by Monty Python fans, "Nudge, nudge, wink, wink." (p.14) On the topic of popular television and film, in reading Drive! one may be reminded of the Scottish movies of some genius such as "Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Barrels," and "Trainspotting" (though, oddly enough, I wasn't greatly reminded of that other great Scottish film that comes immediately to mind, "The Full Monty," despite the films great comedic cachet. Well, maybe at parts).
Also commendable are the anti-stereotypes of the rich kid doing well in school ( former "C and D" student George W. Bush would be left beaming) and the Asian student (one presumes by his name) -Mr. Kwak, that is left in the dust with C's atop his homework, rather than the A's one commonly expects to see from Asians portrayed in literature and film media. Commendable too is that the author has lived outside of his native Scotland for well over a decade yet he has no trouble in dredging up the linguistic cacophany and nuances of his home country's vernacular for the time period in question.
With reference to Scottish, some may be put off at first by the vernacular, but try to enjoy the ride, it's a goodie. In fact, Drive! would be a fine study piece for anyone trying to get a goodly grasp on the Scots dialect, in which it will be quickly learned that Scottish is as magical as any of the other variants of English. The novel is absolutely rife with such Scottish linguistic goodies as "not the lot ae yez," "a wee black strip doon the back" and the consummate Scottish "dinnae" -as in "Ah dinnae fancy landin' unpaid overtime..." (all from page 18). Moreover, Drive! hosts some of the more colorful, if at times base descripts, as where a comely woman is connoted as "the ride."
There are also some elusive Scottish and British references -terms that Americans, Canadians, and other readers will find elusive at best and certainly amusing, such as "gyp" (page 146) and the "milk round" of page 16 (the yearly business recruitment of graduating university students). Finally, there a few linguistic enigmas that may raise your eyebrows, such as "His fingers did the Fandango all over the front of his jeans." (p. 29) -almost sounds like he's practicing public masturbation -though probably is really doing a bit of air guitar. This all makes for more intriguing reading, after all.
Finally, though this is rare for a book review, there is the aesthetic beauty of the book itself to be mentioned; specifically, the paper used for the pages of the novel. Skepdek Publishing is to be praised for the lovely quality of paper that was chosen to construct Drive! Skepdek Publishing is out of Greece, and like Greek women, the paper is kind to the skin and eyes alike -that is, it is both smooth and soft to the touch, while being a faint yellow in color, vice the more common, harsh white so often used to make novels.
Get Drive! It is easily found on the internet, including Facebook, in which the author reads excerpts from the book with all the inflection just as he wrote it; a real delight it is: