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THE MAN WHO WOULD STOP AT NOTHING by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

THE MAN WHO WOULD STOP AT NOTHING

Long-Distance Motorcycling's Endless Road

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-393-07904-3
Publisher: Norton

In an odd, misguided combination of marriage memoir and stunt journalism, motorcycle enthusiast Pierson (The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home, 2006, etc.) follows two narrative threads—the road to and from her divorce and story of an obsessive long-distance-riding group called the Iron Butt Association—on a journey to...nowhere.

While it’s a sad tale, the reporting of the author’s crumbling relationship is well-worn territory. As for the Iron Butts, the center of that thread is John Ryan, the most obsessive of the obsessive, a man who would choose his motorcycle over anything. Though Ryan is a colorful character, as a subject he’s worthy of a magazine article rather than an entire book—much of his story feels like filler. As the story jumps back and forth between anecdotes that don't quite connect, the author struggles to give the narrative context, but the book ultimately feels as if it has no anchor. Eventually, the author resorts to explaining the purported purpose of the book: “I realize, with a start, what this book is about: Death. Not motorcycling, but death. Or, rather, motorcycles as life force and death force at once: the game played so we can safely approach the end, in which one side is squashed by the other." Unfortunately, Pierson fails to meet her lofty goal; the book doesn’t adequately mine such Big Themes. While journalists such as A.J. Jacobs and Stefan Fatsis have managed to make their off-kilter passions at once charming and compelling by utilizing humor and heart, Pierson's self-indulgence and pretention make it difficult to join her on this literal and figurative journey.

A lack of focus, an often-cold tone and the less-than-exciting parallel narratives make this slight road memoir a sleepy ride.