Drivers, a new short story collection by Nathan Leslie
There are few experiences so quintessentially American as the automobile. Yes, the world is full of cars, with the Germans and Japanese car industries continually giving Detroit a run for its money. However, after spending a number of years overseas I believe I can safely state that most of the world sees the automobile very differently than Americans do.
You see, for much of the world a car is merely a status symbol or a means of getting from point A to point B (or, of course, both). In the United States, though, the automobile is a symbol of freedom. Yes, people in America purchase cars for the same reasons of status and transportation that appeal to people in other countries. But if one digs deeper into the American car psyche, one finds a deep yearning for freedom, for the ability to pick up and leave our old lives and drive around this gigantic country of ours and never stop. Forget about the car actually taking you someplace--the more important fact is the freedom the car could one day give you.
I have been thinking about the American love of cars while reading Nathan Leslie's new short story collection Drivers. Evey story in this collection focuses on cars, either through the vehicles themselves (such as a lovely Studebaker Starliner) or through the people who drive them. I have long been a fan of Nathan's first person writing style and this collection showcases his ability to great effect. However, if this was merely another collection of short stories, I doubt it would have siezed my imagination so tightly.
Instead, Nathan has woven his characters and stories into that most American of ideals--the freedom the automobile gives us, the freedom to drive away from our lives. Nevermind that many of the characters in this collection don't embrace this freedom, or if they do embrace it they don't know what to do with the gift they've been given. Instead these characters live their lives as we all live them: day by day, accident by accident, traffic jam by traffic jam. But despite this drudgery, the potential for freedom still lurks behind each story and that is what I loved about this book. That is also, I believe, why Americans love their cars. Even if you drive a beat-up minivan who's main purpose is driving the kids to and from soccer practice, when you grip that steering wheel you can at least dream of setting off down that highway and not stopping until your old life disappears in your rearview mirror.
Anyone who's found themself gripping their steering wheel in this type of manner will enjoy Nathan Leslie's new book.