Greg's Reviews > How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Novel

How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Christopher Boucher
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's review
Aug 26, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, melville-house
Read from August 26 to 27, 2011

Don't let me three stars fool anyone. This might have been a four star book. Or a high three? Why am I feeling so ungenerous. I don't know. I partly want to shy people possibly away from the book. I'm afraid that they will not like it much. Why, Greg, do you think that anyone actually reads any of your reviews and then thinks so highly of your opinion that they go out and read something because you gush over it? I don't know. All I can hope is that I don't influence anyone in anything. The thought of effecting someone's life is almost too much to bear.

Speaking of bearing, as I write this a hurricane is preparing to bear down on us unlovely citizens of NYC. In an unprecedented move the mayor who constantly likes to set himself up in a position of father lording over the welfare of dimwitted children has ordered public transportation to be shut down hours before anything major is happening. I think there is something here to complain about, maybe just the air of I'm going to do what's best for you that Bloomberg keeps adopting on all kinds of issues, but I'm also grateful. I got out of having to goto work today, and I finished this book. And now I'm writing this review. None of this would happen if the trains were running.

Is that last paragraph important to the review? Nope. It's just a snapshot of when this is being written.

How to write about this novel?

It is quirky. Almost too quirky for it's own good. Out of the various young (I think he's young, or shall I say new?) writers that George Saunders is grooming this one has taken quirky to a whole new level. I think the weight of the 'quirks' he adds to the book is almost too much for the narrative to sustain. The book feels like it always about to collapse in on itself. It doesn't though. But I'm not sure if it works either.

There are words on the page. And there is meaning to those words, and independent of the meaning of the words is a story that weaves it way through the book. That I'm able to grasp the story is surprising, reading this book almost feels like looking at one of those pictures where if you look at it one way it's an old woman or a duck and if you look at it differently it's a young woman or a rabbit. It's like I'm reading this kind of weird duck story and I keep seeing the duck, but at the same time the presence of the mournful rabbit (why would a rabbit be mournful?) story is making itself known. It's a kind of cool thing, but I don't think most readers want a kind of cool way to inflict melancholy on themselves from a book.

With a gun to my head I wouldn't be able to tell you what the Volkswagen is supposed to represent in the book. At times the metaphor shifts around. Most of them do in the book. And everything is named something funny, that's the quirky. Like the police are called the City Dogs. Farms move. Buildings talk and die. Western Massachusetts is constantly in flux, but not nearly enough flux that I didn't know many of the places featured in the book, and it's been ten or twelve years (thriteen you old fuck, you were last there thirteen years ago, almost to the day... no memory-of-Greg-when-he-was-younger-and-still-believed-in-the-future, it was 12 years, it was right before starting to visit the grad-school that would kill memory-of-Greg, and for the record the shirt I was wearing today while running errands was the same one I wore the night I got there for the last time, I remember because some jock-tree (a jock? in one of the most laid back and liberal places in the world) threatened to kick my ass for wearing a shirt with the musicroad name Kill the Man Who Questions on it. (are you noticing weird words slipping into the power-review? I'm booking them in to give the sofas and pillars out there a readingfeeling for wordoil that this powerbook does (ok, I went overboard on this sentence, none of them are this bad for inserting words like this, but most of the words were taken from the book))). At the heart (an apt word to use for this book, it has a lot of heart, and it plays a major part in the book, just look at the cover where you can see the Volkswagen heart) it's a book about coping with the loss of a father. A heart-attack tree splits his fathers chest in two and carries him off along with Atkins Farm one Sunday morning. That night the narrator, who has no name because he sold it for minutes (just nod along, ok?) in grief faiths with his ex-girlfriend, the Lady from the Land of Beans, and she gives birth to a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. This book is about trying to keep his son, the car, alive. A car that runs on stories and memories.

That is the basic premise of the book. Confused? Me too.

It's a very sad book though. Crushingly sad. I don't think something that has baffeled and confused me on a straight forward narrative level has ever had such an emotional impact on me. I mean, how often do you read Beckett and have real feelings being stirred by the text? (Ok, maybe you do, for me it's usually a very removed, intellectual feeling, like yes I get the loneliness and alienation, but not an oh my god this is making me feel pretty sad (not crying sad, just melancholy I guess--this is no Book Thief)).

Take back what i said earlier, I'm going to knock this up to four stars and hope that people do read it. I want to know what other people think of this strange book about a man, his Volkswagen son and the Memory of My Father.
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Reading Progress

08/26/2011 page 99
48.0% "too quirky?"
02/21/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 77) (77 new)

message 1: by karen (new)

karen wait, is the hurricane only going to affect the unlovely?? then i am totally safe. what shall i do with all this soup??

Greg On my few journeys outside today I saw an awful lot of ugly people on the streets of Woodside.

Greg and lovely people are never affected by things like hurricanes or tornados. Poor people and toothless white trash get fucked over by those things.

message 4: by karen (new)

karen toothless?? careful there, son - you are about to become one of them

Greg I'm also poor, so I'm fucked.

message 6: by karen (new)

karen aha!! get your go-bag ready!

Greg I plan on being in a FEMA camp by morning.

message 8: by karen (new)

karen nooo - this is just wind and rain - haven't you heard??

Greg Yeah, but I read the story of the tornado that dropped in the middle of the hurricane (I think it was in North Carolina). It destroyed a car dealership and a trailer park. Don't the poor people have enough to worry about with a hurricane, and then bam!!!! a tornado!!!

message 10: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Sounds like you were trying to start a puppy tornado.

message 11: by karen (new)

karen the tar heel state.

message 12: by karen (new)

karen bloomberg said no twirling in nyfc...

message 13: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Are you guys ok? I'm really worried you may be injured or dead.

message 14: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Whew!

message 15: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg It's still a few more hours before things could be bad, right now it's just like a regular thunder storm.

message 16: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Just be careful when you go out surfin'...THE NET, that is! Hahahahahaha! huh...ugggghhhhh.

message 17: by karen (new)

karen seriously. come on. hurricane - impress me!

message 18: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Ouch. What time is the next show?

message 19: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez The fact that you even responded to that speaks volumes about your patience, Greg.

message 20: by Paquita Maria (last edited Aug 27, 2011 07:13PM) (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I'm just going to continue commenting in order to keep this review in the news feed so that if the hurricane DOES swallow you whole, you go out in a blaze of goodreads glory.

message 21: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Thanks! I think I'm so bored from just sitting around the house all day waiting for the hurricane to come that just about anything is amusing to me now.

message 23: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg If I perish in the hurricane or end up in a FEMA camp my one wish is that this review goes totally fucking viral.

message 24: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez A noble goal, indeed!

(Vote for this review, guys.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation.)

message 25: by karen (new)

karen greg - honk!

message 26: by Jen (last edited Aug 27, 2011 07:42PM) (new)

Jen Eyereen is sashaying her way past me now and I think she has a girlish giggle to her.

Hurricane Ike barked out orders to flatten our car(with help from a very tall forked pine) when we were in Texas, so I'm a little disappointed.

message 27: by karen (new)

karen eyereen is saving all her love for nyfc!! i hope. i could use a little weather-action over here. i got my d batteries and everything.

message 28: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg If you want maybe Karen and I can make an aiff where we take the Chinatown bus down to Virgina and destroy your car for you. Just to ease the disappointment.

message 29: by Jen (new)

Jen I'm not sure vandalism is covered on my policy. Let me check.

message 30: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Yeah, well it auto-be covered. DADUMCHA!

message 31: by Jen (new)

Jen Nope. I think only deers and such can molest my car.
And they don't bother because they are such compassionate beings that they can't bear to kick a car as shabby as mine.

message 32: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez I'm sorry, guys. I just...I'm sorry guys.

message 33: by karen (new)

karen can i wear a deer costume???

message 34: by Jen (new)

Jen How do you feel about wearing a deer costume?

message 35: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Weird jinx.

message 36: by Jen (new)

Jen We're agreed then.

I have a camera for insurance documentation.

message 37: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Can Karen drive your car while wearing a deer costume? Will that be covered?

message 38: by karen (new)

karen oh, i drive good!! seriously!! especially in a deer costume!

message 39: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Aug 27, 2011 08:29PM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Did someone say "deer costume"?

message 40: by Jen (new)

Jen I'll have to check on that one. I'm sure they'd enjoy a call right now inquiring about it. It will break up the claims filing monotony.

message 42: by Jen (new)

Jen Greg, your review reminds me of this Mason Williams' song The Prince's Panties (the prince renames things and then uses the new words in conversation). My man has a copy of it on cassette tape (recorded from a record). I'll have to dig around and see if it's on youtube or something.

message 43: by Paquita Maria (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez You call him your "man." That's so cute! That sounds totally condescending, perhaps, but I really mean that is sincerely, amazingly, adorably, intensely cute. Seriously!

message 44: by karen (new)

karen jen is all of those words.

message 45: by Mike (new)

Mike Puma Why, Greg, do you think that anyone actually reads any of your reviews and then thinks so highly of your opinion that they go out and read something because you gush over it?

I've actually read several books based on your recommendations--sometimes even agreeing with your reviews. I even plan to read some more, go figure. I should say, it's not your reviews, as such, that keeps me coming back for more reading ideas, it's that I can't believe Karen would go on culinary extravaganzas week after week with the same guy if he didn't have something to say. Keep up the good work. Please.

message 46: by karen (new)

karen i like food, and he lives near me. AND HE JUST KEEPS FOLLOWING ME TO RESTAURANTS!!!!

message 47: by karen (new)

karen it's true. with the subways out, it has limited my options for food, and he has been sitting in the bushes outside my house, waiting for me to leave, throughout the hurricane. i can see the sleeve of his shirt. i'm going to try to scurry down the fire escape. wish me luck.

message 48: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg i survived with little more than some water damage to my ceiling and a couple of leaks from the rain. I guess there is no need for this to go viral now.

Thanks, Mike, for the kind words!

This is being sent from the bushes outside of Karen's house.

message 49: by karen (new)

karen no one can catch me! i am swift like monkey!

message 50: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg She hasn't left yet, but I'm keeping an eye on the front door and the fire escape.....

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