(free copy, honest review, you know the drill)
The Grand Tour is not my normal fare. The books I read immediately preceding it, for example, were: Kelly McCullough’s six Fallen Blade novels, Mike Brook’s Dark Run, Lyndsay Faye’s Jane Steele, and Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy. After finishing The Grand Tour, I immediately immersed myself in Neil Gaiman’s The View From the Cheap Seats.
As you can probably tell, I have a type.
It’s good to move outside your comfort zone, however, especially as a reader and writer, so, when given the opportunity to review Adam O’Fallon Price’s book, I jumped.
And, for the majority of its tenure in my bag, by my bed, and in front of my face, I was quite glad I did.
The Grand Tour is many things: it is a road-trip novel, a coming of age story, an exploration of the consequences of addiction, a tragedy, a farce, a buddy story, a tale of fandom. Richard Lazar has, suddenly and on life’s downslope, achieved that of which he has always dreamed: he has become a bestselling author. This, unfortunately for him, necessitates he leave his isolated trailer in Arizona and, as they said, “people.” Richard is terrible at “people-ing” for a variety of reasons, among them: disdain for the world in general, alcoholism, and a complete lack of self-confidence. At his first stop, Richard is met by a “student” named Vance. Vance is an aspiring writer who has stopped going to class in order to care for his debilitatingly depressed mother while battling his own creeping mental health crisis. Lazar is Vance’s hero, at least before the two actually meet, and circumstances conspire for Vance to act as Richard’s chauffeur for the remainder of the tour.
It is, of course, an epic disaster.
The Grand Tour is a smart book. It is a witty book. O’Fallon Price is a keen observer of the human condition and of our varied, often illogical, irrational motivations. He has painted a masterful portrait of a struggling writer who has only damned himself further by meeting his own expectations and a young man with a mind so much wider than the minute world in which he is trapped. I found myself caring for both characters very early on despite Richard being something of a jerk and Vance an eternal pessimist because they were so very real even when engaged in complete absurdity. This is one of few instances (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl being another) I can think of in which an eminently unlikable main character still manages to engage, to garner at least some sympathy, some empathy. To serve as a solid connection between book and reader because we can recognize bits of ourselves in him, both the “good” and the “bad,” but the always human.
The plot itself is an interesting take on the journey tale, the concept of following a book tour within the covers of a book is meta in a way that could have quickly become stale had not O’Fallon Price handled it with such a deft hand. The reader can completely lose herself in the story, lose track of the book in her hands, and enjoy the manner in which it all comes together. The story itself is as volatile and hyperactive as its participants, which gives The Grand Tour a much quicker, more active pace than one usually finds in “literary fiction.”
I was greatly enjoying myself until about two-thirds of the way through The Grand Tour, at which point the book comes to a screeching halt by transitioning from extreme to completely over-the-top in a way I, as a reader and writer, find… problematic. In the last eighty or so pages, O’Fallon Price has simply tried to do too much. He has injected too many events, too much tragedy, too many cliches into too few pages. No longer darkly comedic or comedically dark, The Grand Tour becomes a predictable farce, a diffident parody of itself I found both unpleasant and unpalatable. To my dismay, I felt my reader self-disengage, skimming for the sake of finishing a book I had promised to finish
I stopped caring.
In fairness, I’ve done similar in my own writing. I, however, was lucky enough to be working with editor Jenny Melzer, who put her foot down and said, “Yeah, no. I’m not going to let you do this.” I fervently wish whomever it was that edited The Grand Tour had done the same, assisted O’Fallon Price in sifting through the elements, deciding what was necessary and what could be moved or taken out, while still maintaining the integrity of the story. I wish this book had ended as it began, in a burst of snark and lovely absurdity without tipping the scales toward cringe-worthy cheapening of several pivotal moments.
All of that said, I can see myself checking out the author’s next book. His style is sharp, his observations keen, his character development excellent, and he is eminently quotable, leaving the reader with such gems as:
“If writing is fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
When Richard woke up, they were clattering over a bridge into Portland, which lived up to its reputation for being both overcast and silly.
It’s like life. You bumble along and f^%$ stuff up (symbols mine).
Perhaps, if this is your “type” of book you’ll feel differently about the ending. I would definitely say Adam O’Fallon Price’s writing is definitely worth the price of admission. Be aware of the edge of the cliff, though, and hopefully, the fall will be a little less painful for you than it was for me.
The Grand Tour by Adam O’Fallon Price is scheduled for release by Doubleday on August 9th, 2016.