Road trips are a tried and tested formula, one which is difficult to either get completely right or completely wrong. I have read and seen so many books and movies on the subject which I have liked enough to not get bored by them. But I had yet to come across something I truly loved. I have to say the “Driving to Belair” comes close to being perfect.
The book follows the formula very well. We start with a reason for the road trip which has meaning and does not seem frivolous. Each of the persons on the road trip has a personality and there are no filler characters. As, with any good road trip book, anything that can go wrong, does in fact go wrong. The characters develop and mature during the road trip as the hardships and the trials all bring them closer to each other than they were to begin with. And, it all ends on a hugely positive note. Frankly, I don’t see anything new there. But, I still loved the book! It is by far the best one I have read.
I loved the mix of characters the author has created. The trip consists of Dale, a person working in a New York advertising agency who comes from the modest background of a family raised on a farm. Then, there are his two brothers, both of whom have their own problems. One of them is a drug addict, who is totally immature and refuses to grow up. The other brother has held a grudge against Dale for a really long time for leaving the family behind and for “running away” from his responsibilities. He is now an alcoholic and is hostile towards Dale right from the start. Add to this trio, Dale’s ex-fiancé whom he also left behind and his current high-maintenance girlfriend who is the spoilt daughter of his boss. With such a cast, the storyline was bound to be explosive.
Each character is clearly well developed and complex. I kept changing my opinions about the all the characters, except for one, throughout the book. I kept moving from hating to loving characters and could not decide whether a character was the good guy or bad. For example, Dale’s past made me feel really sorry for him. He had a tough childhood with an abusive father, which made him bitter towards his family. But I couldn’t stand his actions now, after all these years. This is something I really enjoy, characters which are not painted with just one brush. Each character had a past and personality traits which added many dimensions to them and made them real. The talent of the author lies in making us feel the emotions he wants us to feel. This is not something easy to achieve, and for this I commend him.
The events which take place in the story are fairly standard to any road tip related media. They did add a lot of personality to the book though. They made me laugh, cringe, shout, feel sorry, and finally feel happy. The book also ends strongly. All the loose ends are perfectly tied and everyone goes home happy, well almost everyone. The author also gives us a glimpse in the life of the characters a few years after this road trip. We’re left contented as we know what finally happened to each of the characters.
I found it to be nice that such broken people can also find lasting happiness. This means there is hope for me too! LOL. That is the message I truly love.