A man flees his failed marriage for the post-quake destruction of Haiti to repair motorcycles and find purpose.
Greg should be happy: He’s self-made and wealthy, able to quit his job to ride motorcycles (his favorite pastime) and watch his daughter, Maggie, grow up. But this life seems to be slipping away; loneliness and malaise overtake him, and sleep without alcohol becomes impossible. In the wake of his divorce, he sees coverage on TV of the massive earthquake in Haiti that shook the hearts of the world, making Greg think it’s time to shake things up, too. Packing all he can onto a bike, he leaves his fractured family for Port-au-Prince, where he aims to fix motorcycles and find his place in the world. Montgomery’s debut recalls aspects of Lawrence Sterne, with an introspective protagonist both pursued and pursuing some great intangible, the destination secondary to the many digressions along the way. Yet Greg isn’t easily tolerated in this role, as his hobbyhorses—his obsession with his bike and the roads it runs on, the past he’s left behind in America—dominate the novel’s focus. As a result, Haiti as a setting is underutilized, with its poverty and destruction largely subdued. The book’s strong attention to detail, easily its greatest asset, is suddenly absent, and the chance to vividly experience the heartbreak the narrator claims to see is lost, turning the catastrophe into a backdrop for the narrator’s inner turmoil. The novel’s small supporting cast exists to validate the narrator, never challenging him, even when a character like his best friend, Logan, is presented as savvy enough to do so. Logan and, to an extent, Greg’s daughter act as utility characters—people for the protagonist to write to as a means to talk more about himself. Quick-witted, confident Beth, the love interest, becomes a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a static, nonthreatening woman meant solely to move Greg toward self-forgiveness and growth. The novel is uniform in its humorless tone, but the colloquial manner that Greg engages with his own challenges, from dropped bikes to sleepless nights, steers the book clear of heavy-handedness.
Engrossing prose but myopic in focus.