Higgs (Bringing In The Sheaves, 1996) frames his memoir around a three-week road trip he took in 2009, sharing stories of his wayward youth along the way.
Despite initial misgivings, 57-year-old Higgs decides to climb Washington State’s Mount Rainier with his best friend. The author, an avid hiker, is curious about “how the air feels up there,” and he wants to measure his physical boundaries. So the two friends, accompanied partway by their wives, set off on the long drive from their homes in Tulsa to Washington and back. The route west triggers many memories from Higgs’ past—he’s led a life chock-full of adventure—and he recounts some of his exploits to his travel companions. There’s the summer he picked cherries in Michigan, and the time he went AWOL from the Air Force. There’s also a lot of hitchhiking, drug experimentation and temporary labor. Higgs says he spent most of his life “as a human pinball, bouncing all over America,” and drifting is certainly one of the book’s themes. The author seems forever on a quest to make connections, to find meaning in daily existence and to reinvent himself. The coming-of-age plot progresses haphazardly, with modern-day details of the road trip mingled with stories of the past that are confusingly achronological. Though he’s no Bill Bryson, Higgs describes scenery with artistic flair, and his narration of the mountain climb is especially compelling. Elsewhere, Higgs devotes too much time to the mundane: what his wife ordered for dinner, dialogue from insignificant conversations, step-by-step driving maneuvers. Readers may wonder how the author remembered such trifling details. Even major plot points may not have occurred exactly as reported: In his author’s note, Higgs admits that putting the past to paper is a tricky thing: “The stories in this memoir are drawn from both memory and imagination,” he says, going on to explain that some of the people and places in his tale are made up. His honesty is admirable, but it costs him part of what draws readers to memoirs: the thrill of authenticity.
Dull moments overshadow the exciting ones.