A debut memoir recounts a man’s retreat from “mainstream” life in search of his true self.
In 2006, Malone made a fateful decision. He unceremoniously quit his job, ditched his apartment, and spent the bulk of his limited life savings on a 1976 Dodge van. His intention was to live in it and follow his lifelong dream of finding meditative solace in a simpler, less cluttered existence. He quickly discovered that he needed to make some money and become more resourceful, so he started selling his blood plasma to a local clinic, learned the fine art of dumpster diving, and even took a three-day course designed to teach college students basic survival skills in the wild. Malone received a modest inheritance after his father died in 2006, and he used this money to buy a used car and drive across the United States; he also traveled to England, Ireland, and France. Over the course of his adventures off the grid, he reflected deeply on the fallout of an acrimonious divorce, and he made a decision to give full custody of his two children to his wife. He also wrestled with memories of abuse he suffered at the hands of both parents, his father’s emotionally corrosive alcoholism, and the way that both of these things fueled his own struggle with drug addiction. The remembrance is dotted with illustrative references to literature, culling wisdom from the likes of authors such as Jack Kerouac, René Descartes, and Henry David Thoreau.
The author’s prose is informally anecdotal, although in spots it employs a more refined, even elegant style: “As proud as I was to have time and again assembled the audacity and the daringness to answer the call to adventure and to leave the common world behind, my adventures had always felt truncated, had always left me feeling a little embarrassed, a little like I hadn’t really possessed the endurance or the determination to complete the mission.” Malone is also bracingly forthcoming, candidly appraising his own shortcomings and courageously attempting to learn something of value from them. However, the author can sometimes take unusual narrative detours; for example, he tells of buying a gun in order to see if possessing it would influence his thoughts on gun-control policy. Also, the book veers into anodyne self-help–book formulas at times, waxing philosophical about the power of smiling, for instance, or about looking into the mirror to give oneself permission to cry. The idea of going on a vision quest also seems uninspired and shopworn, and it sometimes seems as if the author is checking things off a clipboard of spiritually meaningful diversions. It’s often hard to tell the difference between moments of spiritually intense sequestration and escapist hermitage, but Malone is well-aware of that issue and intelligently comments upon it. Overall, this memoir’s emotional depth more than compensates for its excesses, and the author shows considerable bravery in squarely confronting long-ago trauma in its pages.
A thoughtful recollection about the rejuvenating power of unconventional choices.