By the end of the second novel from onetime truck driver Dave Newman (he ran OTR for a couple years some time ago), of Pennsylvania, the book’s protagonist and narrator, Dan Charles, comes to something of an underwhelming conclusion following a DUI piloting a four-wheeler that ends his brief trucking career, if you can call it that: “A job awaited somewhere, one worse than trucking, one where I would have to wear a hardhat and leather gloves and steel-toed boots and I would still end up bruised and burned and dumb, and I was willing to work that until until my fingers fell off, until I lost my hand.”
Underwhelming only on its face, though, as it might encapsulate the thrust of the entire book better than any other passage or high-drama moment — and there are plenty of both. Bar fights, encounters with “commercial company” and wandering travelers, various disagreements and infidelities, etc., which might sound stereotypical or just from a limited perspective. But in Newman’s hands, filtered through the character’s narration, the moments pile up in believable and compelling fashion.
And before you chastise me for giving away the end of the book, I’ll assure you it’s no spoiler. Newman plants the DUI conviction early in the book in something of a flash-forward. Knowing the ultimate outcome of Dan Charles’ trucking sojourn before it even really gets going is in this case liberating, of a fashion. The book, about failure and family (paradoxically perhaps the two most important obstacles to and assistants for a young man learning how to be alive), as well as work, isn’t much concerned with where Charles is going but rather about how, and why, he gets there.
Dan Charles is in his early 20s and finishing up college with dreams of writing poetry the rest of his life at the beginning of the book. But that sounds far too tidy — the guy’s something of a mess, and he knows it. He’s got a girlfriend he claims to truly hate but seems to love and keeps coming back to, and let’s just say he’s become quite attracted to the dive barrooms of his town, where he and his brother brawl and concoct the scheme that will lead to his going OTR.
His brother’s a sales guy who wants to be the boss, older than Dan. He convinces Dan that hard-driving OTR work could well finance the brother’s start-up business supplying an industrial widget not easily procured in their area of the U.S., Western Pennsylvania. Dan would be cut in as a principal in the end, but until then, he could “see the country” — through the high windshield of a line-haul tractor. There’s some romanticism in that for the young Walt Whitman devotee, though it dims considerably once he’s been out on the road for weeks pushing himself — and being pushed — too hard.
It’s a wild ride, I’ll say, peppered with no shortage of humor to boot, though in the weeks of chaos leading up to the final break from the business — and the ultimate failure of the brothers’ attempted collaborative venture — it looks like things might work out. No dice, back to square one.
Trucking, in the end, is the preferable alternative to the day-to-day factory grind that’s in store for Dan, as he tells us — “A job awaited somewhere, one worse than trucking” — but sometimes what we prefer most is the worst thing possible for day-to-day sanity. There’s your change, epiphany, what have you, but it’s not churched up as in a melodrama or your run-of-the-mill sort of literary novel. The “big realization,” rather, is downplayed, a matter of course, and feels true to the way such things play out in the real world for most of us.
As I noted before, what’s important here is the experience of the book itself — the how and why behind and all the switchbacks and turnouts on Dan’s journey to this end. Newman’s a fine writer: I won’t spoil the experience for you. You can pick up the book via Amazon and other retailers. Here’s a link to the Kindle version page.