Christopher Boucher - Our Brautigan. Raising a child is like fixing an old car, and vice versa. In a place where metaphors shift beneath your feet, familiar words suddenly assume new meaning, tools talk, trees walk, and where time is actually money
Christopher Boucher, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Novel, Melville House, 2011.
"It’s hard being a single-dad raising a son—especially if your kid is also a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle.
There’s nothing more troubling than having your child break down on the side of the road, leaking oil, overheating, and asking tough questions like, “What is death?” and “Why did Mom leave?”
But stay calm!
Because How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is not only a dizzyingly beautiful novel, it’s also a handy manual with useful chapters on “Tools and Spare Parts,” “Valve Adjustment,” “How To Read This Novel,” and, most important of all, “How Works a Heart.”
If you think raising a kid in today’s world is hard, imagine how tough it would be if your child also happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle. And not a modern Beetle at that, but a 1960′s era Bug who tended to forget himself racing joyously and heedlessly down the highway, only to break down on the side of the road, puking oil. It’s enough to help a man cope with the recent death of his father, and focus on the dizzying, beautiful here and now of his fragile child.
Welcome to Christopher Boucher’s zany and brilliant literary universe, a place where metaphors shift beneath your feet, familiar words suddenly assume new meaning, tools talk, trees walk, and where time is actually money.
Modeled on the bestselling 1969 hippie handbook of the same title, this wildly inventive tale is both a stunning tour-de-force and a wise and charming consideration of the stuff of great fiction: death, love, loss, responsibility, and road trips.
With the hyperkinetic spark of George Saunders and the surrealist humanism of Aimee Bender, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive marks the arrival of a fiction-making Mozart."
"Innovative, addictive, bonkers and beautiful"—Jonathan Messinger
"Boucher's first novel is one of the most original books you will read this year." —Roxane Gay
"Boucher is our Brautigan. From an alchemy of melancholy and innocence, he coins beautiful malapropisms that overtake the dogged stretches of our language. A whimsy so charismatic you find yourself thinking and, yes, talking in Boucherisms." —Salvador Plascencia
“How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is de'nitely the next book you should read. It’ll be the most fun you’ll ever have getting sad.” - Adam Levin
"Christopher Boucher joins a now-forgotten handbook with Steven Wright's old joke about mistakenly sticking a car key in a house door and builds a new, exuberant novel-world. Goofiness and grief are in perfect harmony in this impressive, moving debut." — Sam Lipsyte
"Beware! Things are not what they seem in Christopher Boucher’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, out this summer from Melville House. Within the pages of this quirky yet delightfully thoughtful novel, we have a Volkswagen that is not only a car but the narrator’s son, we have Trees that steal hearts, ovens that striptease, swordfish who work on cars, stories as fuel, and a raft of intriguing and extraordinary substitutions.
I use the word “substitution” on purpose, because one of the most fascinating aspects of Boucher’s novel is how it takes an already familiar word—like book or time or phrase, for example—and then uses it in the story to mean something else. Some of these substitutions are simply funny or clever, most are easy to swap once the reader gets the hang of what’s going on, like faith for anything sexual, time for money and power for book, but others, like, “I maytagged at the kitchen table,” or “This sounds treble,” are more illusive, yet these textual landmarks give the novel a real uniqueness and texture.
It would be easy to write about this book without providing any sense of its story or structure, simply because the wordplay and experimental feel of the writing tends to dominate. Yet there is a story, one that revolves around two large events in the narrator’s life: the death of his father (by a Heart Attack Tree who then escapes with an entire farm and goes into hiding) and the birth and death of his son, a 1971 Volkwagen Beetle. The father’s death precedes the son’s birth, and in a tricky twist of plot, the son’s death ends up preceding the father’s undeath.
Boucher’s narrative is self-consciously metatextual and, well, storyful; the narrator wants you, the reader, to remain aware that you are reading something that is being written both for the narrator and the narrator’s son, but also for you, and that what’s being written is a collection of experiences now crafted into “stories.” By transforming what has occurred into stories, he gives each of these moments a different kind of life. The transformative process is as important as the narrator’s ability to perform the conversion, and this works both within the storyworld of Volkswagen, because it comes to be a matter of life and death for both the narrator’s father and son, but it also reflects outward in the way the reader then experiences Boucher’s playfulness with language, imagery and metaphor. Here, for example:
Once my hand slipped while I was draining the sufferoil in my Volkswagen, and I was infected with the story of a Smith College student who drowned herself in a public fountain. It took twenty-four hours for that story to clear from my blood, and those hours were some of the most difficult I’d ever encountered—every word was a prison, every note the same.
Or, here, from one of two early chapters which give a series of clues as to how the reader should approach the entire novel:
As you read, though, keep an eye on the book’s combustion spark— that moment where the experience is separated, refracted, amplified. And if you ever lose it, or can’t spot it, just lift up the lines of type and look behind them—you’ll see something shivering, or something laughing, or something looking back at you and sticking out its tongue.
Readers are often divided where experimental literature is concerned—some avoid it, some crave it. What is great about How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is how well it straddles the experimental/conventional divide. On the one hand, by choosing to parody a How-To manual that actually existed, the now-legendary VW handbook by the same title, Boucher pokes fun of that era and the cliché structure of a How-To, yet that very structure is familiar and thus provides the reader with little handholds for navigating his otherwise language-rich, whimsical, and sometimes puzzling story. In each twist of metaphor, in each playful turn of the story and substituted word, a hint of deeper meaning then creates a game between the reader and the book. What is Boucher getting at? Is this supposed to be serious on some level? Or not at all?
That game makes for an engaged reading experience. Interestingly, sometimes Boucher’s extreme whimsy undermines a moment which seems to be striving for real poignancy. And so while taking up with the very serious subjects of birth and death and many more of life’s difficulties, Boucher’s particularly fanciful rendering of those moments lessens their grief and softens their sharpness. They almost always become grotesquely funny, still tragic, but in a fantastical, extraordinary way. Here, for example:
Five or ten minutes later, I pulled into the parking lot in my slow, rotten VeggieCar and found an empty patch of land, a bleeding hysterical Truck, a few Atkin’s employees huddled together and a pack of CityDogs pacing the ground with coffee mugs in their paws and cigarettes dangling from their lips.
I ran to the half-conscious Truck first and spoke with him as they loaded him into the ambulance. He mumbled a How to Use This Book of what had happened. I remembered he just kept apologizing over and over.
I held the Truck by his lapel. “Is he alive?” I begged.
“I did everything I could, ______,” the Truck forked.
“Is he alive,” I said again.
“His chest was…split,” said the Truck, spitting a mouthful of blood onto the street.
“Were there any stories in his eyes? Any stories at all?”
The Truck wept. “I didn’t see any,” he said.
Maybe my father heard the Tree breathing, or noticed his shadow, and maybe he looked up to see the Tree salivating at the window. Before he could move or do anything, though, the Tree attacked—slamming his fist through the glass and into my father’s chest and pulling all of the stories out of his heart.
You see? This is the reason I’d stopped booking: I didn’t, couldn’t, understand this machine—the system of parts and action that was Western Massachusetts. It seemed far too big, and it had shown me too many conflicting things. How could the same place pave the roads that brought me to my family and Atkin’s Farm and pave the roads that allowed the Tree to deheart my father? Who even knew that there were such things as trees that fed on stories, or that would kill an innocent man for a meal? No one did, because the rules kept changing and changing back, with no warning. How could I be expected to navigate such a place?
But then again, transformation is the point. In one sense, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is about inventing ways to tell sad stories about tragic moments that will then help us—the reader, the writer, whomever—to find ways outside of them. This is denying the book’s overriding silliness to some measure, but I think that combination of silly and solemn is exactly what gives Boucher’s novel the ability to drive up off the page and into the depths of our literary garage hearts." - Michelle Bailat-Jones
“Writing to save your life—and your 1971 Volkswagen—is at the heart of this wildly imaginative debut… Readers are in for a fresh, memorable ride with this inventive ‘collage of loss.’” - Publishers Weekly
"How to read this review: Christopher Boucher’s genre-bending novel, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, is modeled after a Volkswagen repair manual from 1969, and is divided into sections with fanciful titles inspired by that tome. Here, we follow suit.
Green light on: The novel opens at a second-birthday fete for the narrator’s son, a Volkswagen Beetle. Yep, his son is a car and yes, VWs play Red Rover at their parties. Playful substitutions of this sort carry throughout the book; sometimes, they’re metaphors that fortify the story’s mood and sometimes Boucher is just having fun—as when he replaces a man’s teeth with board-game pieces.
Spare parts: Using these bits of formal, technical writing to inspire his own do-it-yourself diction, Boucher creates a fun, bluesy work that deals with the difficulty of parenting, coping with loss and how people navigate romantic relationships; in a sense, HTKYVA is an instruction manual for the human heart.
How to drive a Volkswagen: Don’t! And don’t try to control the reading experience, either; call shotgun and let Boucher drive. Though HTKYVA toys with conventional relationships between words and what they signify, the book’s narrator (who remains nameless) indicates when to linger in reality and when to embrace the surreal. Peek just beneath the zany details and, as the book puts it, “see, first and foremost, a story,” and an unforgettable one at that." - Rhea Ramey
"Words fall a bit short when describing Christopher Boucher’s debut novel How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. I have to imagine that trying to explain this book — its complexity, its brilliance, the way it manages to make perfect emotional sense even though almost everything about it is, on the surface at least, absurd — must pose a significant marketing challenge. I’ll admit to some skepticism when I first got this thing in the mail: “If you think raising a kid in today’s world is hard,” the jacket copy reads, “imagine how tough it would be if your child also happened to be a Volkswagen Beetle.”
You read that correctly. The book, which had arrived out of nowhere, was placed in the unpromising stack of books, notebooks, and Random Pieces of Paper that daily threatens to take over my entire desk. It stayed there for weeks. I think I forgot about it. Until a day not long ago when it fell out of the stack — as things sometimes do, because the entire pile collapses every time a cat jumps on it — just when I was looking for a book to take with me on the subway. Fine, I thought, a Volkswagen Beetle. The premise didn’t grab me, but on the other hand, the book is published by Melville House, which is one of my favorite presses. I thought I’d give both book and publisher the benefit of the doubt. I’m glad I did. I was hooked by the end of the first page.
Boucher’s strange and dazzling novel concerns a young man whose girlfriend gives birth to a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. She finds this more troubling than he does and quickly flees the scene, leaving him to raise a fragile young VW while coping with the aftermath of his father’s death. His father was killed by a Heart Attack Tree who came slinking down out of the woods in dirty jeans, having heard the father’s heart beating from afar; the Tree slunk up to him where he sat in the country market building at Atkins Farm and took his heart from his chest. Then the Heart Attack Tree, realizing that his crime had at least one witness, got behind the deli counter of the Farm, revved the engine, and drove the farm away down the highway with the man’s dying father and a number of Atkins Farm employees still inside. I want to say he used the farm as a getaway car, but, well, he didn’t. It was a get-away farm.
A great many things in Boucher’s world can be driven. (Farms, for example, and also musical riffs.) If you open the hood of your car, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll find either an amateur theatre production in progress or an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Phrases that are clichéd and dead in our world — time is money, music transports you — are literal and alive in the world of the book: time really is money (the narrator is nameless, because he took his name to a pawnshop and got twenty-two hours for it), and music really does transport you; some of the new tunes on Route 16 are exciting, but it’s an impractical way to travel, because time passes differently inside the music and by the time you get out of the tune and back on Route 16 a couple weeks might have gone by in the outside world. The narrator gets yelled at by his boss for this reason.
Everything in this world is alive and animate. Take, for instance, the moment of the VW’s conception:
“Shit,” I said. I sat up. “Look, look,” I said, checking for breath, for a pulse.
There was nothing. “I think it’s gone,” I said.
“What?” she said, and turned on the light.
“The condom. It’s dead. It’s not breathing.”
They give the condom a proper burial in a little matchbox coffin outside in the sparkling cold. The narrator breaks down when the coffin is lowered into the hole. Later, back in the apartment, “we got into this conversation about what happens when you die. I wanted to know: Why did it happen? What had the condom (or my father, for that matter) done wrong in its life? And where did it go?”
The narrator is a writer at a newspaper. His editor is a block of cheese. His best friend is a chest of drawers; they go hiking together. The VW comes too, sometimes, but he’s a delicate child/car and often too sick to keep up. A ratchet starts crying and has a meltdown while the narrator’s using him to try to fix the VW; the narrator’s not about to just give up a ratchet that he’s spent good time on, so he takes the ratchet to a local therapist. The session deteriorates when the therapist asks the narrator to come into the room:
Then the ratchet began to sniffle and a tear ran down his cheek. The therapist turned to him. “Harold?” he said.
“Ask him about his project — about his son,” said the ratchet. “Ask him how he runs and where it goes—”
“Listen,” I said. “None of this is very complicated.”
“Not complicated!” the ratchet said.
“I’m a single parent trying to raise my son — that’s all.”
“A car that runs on stories!” shouted the ratchet.
The VW does run on stories, mostly. It also requires a certain variety of chai tea in large quantities, and also love. When it breaks down, it has to be fed new narratives; when the Love Pressure gauge drops below a certain level, it’s sometimes necessary to drive into the nearest populated area in search of acts of kindness before the car stalls altogether. These procedures are explicated at some length in the sections of How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive that are modeled after the 1969 Volkswagen handbook of the same title, where the narrator describes the chaotic and beautiful workings of the VW. These are the sections, incidentally, where the momentum of the book occasionally falters, particularly near the beginning.
But for all the surrealism, there’s nothing glib about the book. The narrator’s beloved son, the VW, is ill throughout and getting sicker; he’s prone to breakdowns and struggling with rust, since the novel’s set more or less in the present and the VW is, after all, a ’71. What we’re left with, through all the insanity and dizzying leaps of logic that make up Boucher’s world, are a series of absolutely human and recognizable truths: it’s unspeakably sad when a parent dies. It’s really scary when your kid’s seriously ill. It can be comforting to avoid change, to stay close to home (“Want to know where we are geographically? Take a look at Gauge Fourteen: It should say ‘Northampton.’”) We spend our lives trying to understand the world, and understanding the world means telling ourselves stories about it; which means, of course, that we all run on stories, whether we’ve thought about it in those terms or not." - Emily St. John Mandel
"Having been born in the middle seventies to parents who owned a VW Beetle, I admit to being confused when I first picked up How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Christopher Boucher. I immediately thought of the virtual bible of Volkswagens by John Muir (first published in ’69 and still surviving today in a 19th edition). Admittedly, I never read Muir’s book, but anyone related to a Beetle aficionado at that time could not help but have formed a sense of it: counterculture in car manual form, the individual and his/her Volkswagen alone together on the open road, and so on.
Clearly, Boucher has similar remembrances, though other than certain emotional impressions and a hazy reflection of certain frameworks Boucher’s book is something else entirely. For example, I certainly wouldn’t recommend using it to actually attempt to fix a Volkswagen. Instead, evoking just enough of the old Muir book as a vehicle to kindle reminiscence, this novel revs with the heartwarming story of a man struggling through life while dealing with the death of his father and trying to raise his son.
Of course, this is not as straighforward as it seems. For example, his son is “a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle.” When his son turns two, the narrator holds a party and orders “food from Nini’s (detective stories for the Beetle, pizza for everyone else).” When the “pizza/stories took longer to arrive than” the narrator expected, “the kids started playing a game—Red Rover… with pieces of cake as the reward. And the VW kept winning, because of his size.” The narrator sees his son “pointing his finger in his friend Ted’s face and singing the Queen song ‘We Are the Champions.’ Then the Volkswagen ran over to the picnic table and shoveled half a cake into his mouth.”
Also, the narrator’s father dies because he is assaulted “by a Heart Attack Tree while sitting at [their] corner table at Atkins Farm in Amherst, Massachusetts (at least that’s where the farm was parked as long as anyone could remember).” “Before” the narrator’s father “could move or do anything,… the Tree attacked—slamming his fist through the glass and into” the narrator’s “father’s chest and pulling all of the stories out of his heart.”
And then, with the narrator’s “father’s body still stuck to his hand, the Tree trudged through the broken glass, into the store, behind the counter and into the kitchen. He shifted the farm into first geat and drove it away.”
Obviously, there is serious imagining going on in this book. After all, did you know that “many Volkswagens won’t allow strangers to even touch them[?]” That “[t]hey’ll attack for almost any reason, even if they know a person is only trying to help or repair them[?]” I didn’t, but I do now.
Strange imagination isn’t the only fun to be had in this book either. Words in the prose are shifted in interesting ways. Think of the phrase ‘time is money.’ Imagine the two literally switched, such as when the narrator looks “deep into [his] wallet” and sees “four hours balled up in the corner.” Objects are sometimes living things. Ever try to fix something with a tool that seems to have a will of it’s own? Try having a racket that is “overly chatty all afternoon—telling [you] about its wife, its kids, a few scrapes with the law” and then starts “to weep uncontrollably[,]” leaving you nothing to do but take “him in to a therapist.” In short, Christopher Boucher’s How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is full of all kinds of crazy fun.
Now, crazy fun is all well and good. However, some writing that goes in for that sort of thing sacrifices story. I’ve seen books that rest their ultimate success on their strange portions, not worrying about whether the story works or not. In other words, it just doesn’t seem to be that important. Here, on the other hand, nothing could be further from the truth. Toasters may do stripteases, fish may be mechanics, faith may be love (wink wink), but Boucher doesn’t cut corners and simply hope nobody pays any attention to the man behind the curtain. To the contrary, the story is enhanced by the strangeness rather than being sacrificed to it.
When I was reading, I found myself reminded of some of my other favorite off-kilter stories. I picked up impressions similar to those I felt when reading the fantastical mechanical detailings in Haruki Murakami’s “The Dancing Dwarf.” I noted a kind of odd tenderness comparable to when I first hit Amelia Gray’s “Babies.” I believed six impossible things before breakfast like when I chowed down on Etgar Keret’s “Fatso.” I was entertained by seemingly plausible absurdity in ways that were akin to my experiences with Donald Barthelme’s “Me and Miss Mandible.”
At the same time, just as Boucher only brings to life faint impressions of Muir’s old book that were buried deep in memory, I wasn’t actually seeing Murakami or Gray or any of the others when I read How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Instead, I was merely reminded of them. How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is its own creature, just as the Beetle inside the book is its own creature.
How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive delivers a marvelous tale in a way that is fresh and entertaining. Anyone who thinks writing either has to be rigidly traditional to the point of boredom or wildly experimental to the point of gibberish should check out this book. It is a marvelous story, but also a strange and wonderful marvelous story." - David S. Atkinson
"Raising a child is like fixing an old car, and vice versa. That is the central metaphor of How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive. Viewed one way, this is comedy—cars are fickle, like kids, and you can never be certain they will run exactly as planned. Viewed another way, it’s tragic—children are mechanical beings, in constant need of fuel and repairs, and inevitably they will break down. The narrator of Boucher’s novel—called ____, since he sold his name to a pawn shop—claims his son is a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle, and a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle his son. Son and car are a single entity. The book could be called How to Keep Your Son Alive.
Still in shock after the sudden death of his father, and still figuring out how to raise his son alone, ____ sets out to write an instruction manual for everyone whose son or daughter is a Volkswagen. Copying the format of a real-life Volkswagen manual of the same name, he covers the basics—how to change the sufferoil, where to find the engineheart—and illustrates everything with personal stories. ____’s stories are mainly pedestrian. He drives around western Massachusetts with/in his son the Volkswagen, scrounges for money as a journalist, and obsesses over the senseless death of his father. He would be a familiar narrator—the lifelong loser with a biting wit—if it weren’t for his pathological insistence on metaphors.
Poetic metaphor has been around since Odysseus sailed the “wine-dark sea.” Conceptual metaphor—the mapping of one set of ideas onto another, like life = journey, or anger = fire—has only been studied by cognitive linguists since about 1980. ____ employs every kind of metaphor there is. At the simplest level, he replaces words for money with words for time. Metonymically, when ____’s brother moves to Colorado, it’s literally Colorado that calls on the phone, eventually breaks his heart, and shows up later to deliver a final insult. Boucher’s buckshot approach to poetic language occasionally becomes absurd.
In the event of an unshift, open up the engine compartment and remove the control unit. Then, take out the momentpump. Underneath it you’ll see a middle transmission, encased completely in glass. Some Beetle owners describe the transmission as taco-like—I’ve heard others say it looks like a bird in a glass coffin. Like I say, every car is different. Plus, the transmission is still a sort of mystery-vision for me—I know that it connects to the engineheart (where stories are bred), for example, but I can’t say how. All I can tell you is that the transmission connects the story to the reader, and thus, that it’s an integral part of the car.
This may be nonsense, but it feels exactly right, like the way you can read a word even if all the interior letters are scrambled. When ____ arrives at the scene of his father’s death, and interrogates an Invisible Pickup Truck about the Heart Attack Tree who ripped all the stories out of his father’s chest, the emotional intensity of the writing is real, even if its elements are ludicrous. Boucher’s deliberate confusion of words and concepts can serve to deflect sentimentality in what is, at base, a highly sentimental story. And it can surprise the reader with emotional resonance, even during the sections on car maintenance.
How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is a deceptively avant-garde novel. Like an engine overhaul, it re-configures our understanding of how a story can be told. The plot, which requires ____ to regain his name, take revenge on his father’s killer, and save his son the Volkswagen from a strange affliction, doesn’t become urgent until the last 40 pages. But the first 200 pages are a pleasure in their own right, a swift ride through a landscape of nearly stupefying emotions." - Brian Hurley
"In college, I had a PARROT (noun) who urged us to EAT (verb) a text by asking three questions of it, in order: 1) IS IT TASTY (question)? 2) IS IT POETRY(question) 3) DOES IT CONTAIN GLUTEN(question)? Christopher Boucher’s How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive may be the text to confound all three inquiries. Which is not necessarily a strike against it. A book-length TEABAG (noun)/ GARLIC KNOT (noun) on owner manuals in general (and specifically John Muir’s TREES ROCK! (book title)), HTKYVWA takes great pleasure in LIGHTING UP (verb) and TOKING (verb) precisely these sorts of questions; unscrewing the linguistic conventions one by one revealing symmetries and symbolisms that are quite TRIPPY (adjective) at times, if always a little HEAVY, MAN (adjective).
The attentive reader may recognize a few familiar characters from previous models such as Jack Sparrow (character 1), Neville Longbottom (character 2), and Jazz the jive-talking robot from Transformers (character 3), (the last of which now comes standard on most new novels) but the true protagonist of HTKYVWA is (character 4). The author foregrounds Fender-Belly Bodine(character 4) to such an extent that it often feels as though other characters and plotlines exist as chickens (plural noun) – necessary for all highways but not sufficient to explain the particular shapes that the road murders (verb). Boucher spends most of the book driving Fender-Belly Bodine (character 4) as hard and as far as he can all around Western Mass, but the ride is high-pistched (adjective) and often frustrating. Fender-Belly Bodine (character 4), as you might imagine, breaks down with overuse. Luckily Boucher is a cumbersome (adjective) fern (noun) in many respects, possessed of a special skill to diagnose malfunctioning language by ear, to hear where words are misaligned or where a phrase is too warn to use.
Boucher’s auditory instincts are ___________ (just leave this one blank), and you have to admire his pluck and inventiveness in making FLIGHTS OF FANCY (figure of speech). But the fact is that the he has made some GLASSES HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL (adage) in HTKYVWA – patching weak plotlines with equally flimsy material, repeating the same LEMONS AS LEMONADE (facile substitution) over and over (“money” “EXISTENCE” (metaphysical verb)“time,” “love” FORGETTING” (metaphysical verb) “faith,” etc.), or sometimes starting the book sputtering down the road without checking to make sure that the ELBOWS (body part) of the themes are aligned – and this can result in some pretty grating noises from time to time.
Boucher’s Metaphor is all TOOTHPASTE (the word, the image itself) and no SHINY WHITE TEETH (the idea conveyed). What he has given us is a novel in which vehicles are constantly becoming other vehicles, shifting gears and KOWTOWING (a word that you can’t quite remember and it’s really annoying but it’s on the tip of your tongue and you’ll remember it as soon as nobody is talking about it anymore), only to be immediately replaced by more vehicles, until there are pages and pages full of vehicles FLOWING,FREEZING, THAWING, MELTING, BOILING, and EVAPORATING (long list of verbs),being sweetly naïve one minute and tearing hearts out of ribcages the next,such that we never actually get a moment to stop and think about what is being said, and by whom. “JE M’APELLE HELEN (something French)”
I would bet that Boucher has perhaps chuckled about this himself, as the novel’s climactic scene portrays our nameless narrator literally in conversation with a MARMADUKE (an unlikely conversationalist); no saxophone. The narrator becomes tenor by CHEROOT (silly-sounding word), recalibrating the rest of the novel’s metaphors around himself as the central figure. Thus despite its DECONSTRUCTIONPAPER (literary-sounding phrase), there is heartfelt emotion at the novel’s core, and it is worth your CHARLIEKAUFMAN (synecdoche) to spend some CAPITAL (metonymy) deciphering the machinery of the V-8 DIFFERENCE ENGINE (piece of machinery)." - Eamon O'Connor
"Christopher Boucher’s debut novel is not a mechanic’s guide, although the title is a nod to the counterculture how-to manual of the same name published by John Muir in 1969. In its 19th edition, Muir’s iconic book is whimsical and witty; Boucher’s gas tank is also full of these traits.
Although hand-drawn and revved up on flower power, the original was still practical. Boucher, however, took a U-turn from that point. Highly imaginative adventures—part fairy tale, part far-out hallucinations—weave around the narrator’s tale of his son, a VW Bug. In Boucher’s world, the Bug interacts with children, wins games of Red Rover and selfishly eats cake while wrenches laugh and cry, and a Heart Attack Tree kills the narrator’s father. Boucher’s clever turns of phrase and his playfulness with words are also hallmarks of this oddball tale. And despite the wonkiness, the enchanting novelist keeps the plot well-oiled and in gear throughout." - Austen Diamond
The Rumpus Book Club Interviews Christopher Boucher
Interview by Jonathan Messinger