LEARNING TO DRIVE by William Norwich


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 In Vogue columnist Norwich's lead-footed debut, a tabloid- ready tale of fatal mayhem on the way to the Department of Motor Vehicles is punctuated with slightly more affecting flashbacks to the not-yet-licensed driver's sad childhood. Julian Orr chronicles society parties for a New York daily and also works for a Vogue-like magazine called View. His therapist urges him to learn to drive so that he can go to Connecticut and visit his parents' graves. Julian enrolls in a driving school, but on the big morning of his road test, Hector, his instructor, calls to cancel. After a furious Julian threatens the manager of the school with a critical newspaper piece, Hector is ordered to show up. Bad idea. Hector arrives with his seven-year-old daughter in tow, and it's soon clear that he's on the verge of a breakdown. He insults Julian, punches him, and ultimately hits and kills an elderly woman. When the police stop the car, Hector starts shooting and is also killed. Julian saves Hector's daughter, whom he decides he wants to keep. In short order, Julian gets his license, doesn't get custody of the girl, and drives himself to the cemetery for his poignant graveside moment. This ghastly tale--told in a light satiric tone jarringly at odds with the tragic events described--is punctuated with vignettes from Julian's young life. We learn that toddler Julian slept in his kind father's bed while his mother slept in another room, that he was molested by a male counselor at the Enchanted Woods camp, and that he was orphaned during his adolescence. How does any of this relate to poor Hector? The connection between the two stories is as obscure as the relevance of the learning-to-drive metaphor. An uneasy blend of satire and mourning, unleavened by either society dish or genuine insight.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-87113-631-7
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996