A TV producer embarks upon a transcontinental quest for spiritual enlightenment with a childhood friend.
When Richard (his last name is never given) e-mailed out of the blue, both men lived on the West Coast—the author in Los Angeles, Richard in Oregon—but had rarely seen each other since they attended high school in New Jersey 30 years ago. The few times they met while Jackson was climbing the career ladder in documentary films, Richard seemed to be drifting, stubborn to a fault and obsessed with upholding his counterculture standards. Nonetheless, he persuaded the author to drive back East to reconnect with their past. With little in common besides their high-school experiences and lapsed Catholicism, the two were unlikely traveling companions. Their expectations for the journey’s particulars diverged at every turn. Richard was returning in part to unload the emotional baggage of a brutal childhood. Jackson, who was striving to articulate the parameters of his beliefs, sought the mystical renewal of a pilgrimage amid the small towns and truck-stop diners along their route. Richard preferred not to question his private spirituality and hated to stop driving for any reason. The car he had lovingly chosen for their journey, a ’69 Volkswagen Beetle, conspired against them both with unnerving regularity. Plagued by mysterious engine problems, they were frequently forced to detour in search of mechanics and parts in remote towns throughout the Midwest. Along the way, Jackson considered such pressing philosophical dilemmas as what happens when we die, why science can’t reveal life’s meaning and whether commitment to bettering the human community could replace religion as a source of moral guidance. His dull but serviceable prose offers little insightful analysis, and its flourishes are confined to clunky extended metaphors and stale truisms.
The straightforward simplicity of these well-intentioned musings might be helpful for young adults with spiritual longings who are suspicious of organized religion. Mature readers would do better rereading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.