Monday, January 8, 2024

Blacktop Wasteland

Blacktop Wasteland
  Blacktop Wasteland
Author:  S. A. Cosby
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250252687 / 978-1250252685

Rating:   ★★★★

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection for a local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting."

Favorite Quote:  "Choices give you freedom from those expectations. Allow you to cut 'em loose. Because that's what freedom is. Being able to let things go. And nothing is more important than freedom. Nothing."

The term "blacktop wasteland" is not a reference to a post-apocalyptic ruin of some other worldly calamity. It is rather a reference to the poverty, the racial divides, and the inequity that still inhabits many parts of our nation. In this case, the reader finds themselves in a small town in Virginia. "Progress had left this part of town behind. It was abandoned just like the store. A blacktop wasteland haunted by the phantoms of the past."

Beauregard “Bug” Montage did not have a positive start in life. He ends up in juvenile detention due to petty crimes as a teenager. By the time he comes out, his father has disappeared, leaving him behind. He tries to build an honest life, making a living as a mechanic and trying to be a better parent and example to his children.

Big business moves in, and a  small town mechanic cannot compete with those prices. Dire financial straits bring back into Bug's life people from his past. Bug's passion is cars, and his claim to fame is being one of the best drivers around - one of the best getaway drivers. Is one more heist and stint worth the price if it will secure his family's financial future? Is one last getaway drive possible? Is it possible to get out? Is it worth the price if his children learn that he is on the wrong side of the law to accomplish this?This is the quandry that Bug faces.

"I ain't gonna tell you it's wrong, because you know it's wrong. You gotta promise no matter how bad you think things are, you won't ever do anything like this again. You start down a road like this and before you know it you can't find your way back. You lose yourself. One day you wake up and you're just this thing that does shit and don't feel nothing. And that's the worst thing you can be. I can't let that happen to you. I'm your Daddy and it's my job to protect you. Even if that means protecting you from yourself."

This book was a book club selection and a newer genre for me with its dark, noir setup. With Bug's expertise in cars, his love for his car - a legacy from his father, and a plot line about a getaway, this book is very car forward. I know very little about cars, and my interest is limited to getting from point A to point B. However, I can understand that strong affinity to something that anchors to our pasts, especially to emotions left unresolved.

In addition, the characters and emotions in this book resonate. This is a book about poverty and the impossible choices involved in trying to give your children a better life. "He wasn't robbing Peter to pay Paul. They had both ganged up on him and were mugging him." The main character is a criminal contemplating another crime. He is also an adult abandoned as a child, a husband, and a father. He is a character I find myself cheering for. Throughout the book, I hope that things work out for Bug and his family.

This book exemplifies what I love about book clubs. It often forces me to read beyond my comfort zone, and sometimes it leads to a wonderful new reading adventure.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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