Farewell My Subaru is a book about going green. Really green. In the book, author Doug Fine moves to the desert with the intention of ending his dependence on fossil fuels and Wal-Mart. If this sort of thing interests you and you don’t really mind a self-righteous narrator, you might give it a try.
Farewell My Subaru is a book about going green. Really green.
In the book, author Doug Fine moves to the desert with the intention of ending his dependence on fossil fuels and Wal-Mart. If this sort of thing interests you and you don’t really mind a self-righteous narrator, you might give it a try.
The book covers roughly more than a year of Fine’s transition from an average consumer-driven New Yorker to New-Mexican rancher set on living locally. The premise is interesting, but the execution runs into a lot of snags. Fine, an experienced travel journalist, has strong writing skills but he can’t seem to tie his stories together or make them mean anything to the reader.
The setting for the book is Fine’s new plot of land, which he calls the Funky Butte Ranch. What occurs here is divided into five parts of the book, the titles appearing in this order: “Drought,” “Flooded,” “Converted,” “Solarized” and “Growth.” That pretty much sums it up.
Whether global warming is a factor or not, in his first year in New Mexico, Fine experiences a great amount of heat, then the greatest amount of rain the locals say they’ve seen in a long time. Next, he converts to a truck with a diesel engine that runs mostly on vegetable oil, saying farewell to his Subaru (the anti-climactic titular moment we’ve been waiting for). From then on out, it’s solar power, gardening and live goats and chickens.
Fine’s idea to record and share this endeavor is a good one. It’s exactly the thing great books are made of. But it doesn’t work as well as it could, because the writing doesn’t serve the reader. It’s raw in the worst possible way.
One problem with Fine’s writing is that it falls on the wrong side of indulgent. He seems like the kind of guy who would make you laugh a lot in person, but in his writing the humor is overzealous. A joke here or there is good, but Fine shows no restraint. When a tongue-in-cheek or just goofy comment is tagged on to every other idea, it creates distance between the reader and the legitimacy of the author’s work. And the jokes stop being funny. If Fine didn’t try to ham it up so much, Farewell, My Subaru would have been a lot more readable.
Also, Fine’s ego gets in the way. Though it’s a subtle egotism, it’s definitely there. You’ll know it when you finish the book and realize that Fine built no redeeming relationships within the narrative. Sure, the story is about him. We get it. But some of the small-town people who pop up in the book once, then never again, are just begging to be given a little more attention.
Take Herbie, for example, a patient old neighbor who offers to help Fine install a solar-heated water tank, a strenuous task indeed. While Fine is busy whining about his “bloody hands”??an exaggeration, I’m sure–that he makes again and again to emphasize his hard work, the readers get a glimpse of what Herbie is like. He’s a wise hippy with a ticking prostrate (that is, he has cancer and has made it longer than doctors thought) who, at this point in the book, is a lot more fascinating than Fine. Unfortunately, Herbie is never mentioned again after the water tank is set up.
A few women, who are dates of Fine’s, are mentioned throughout the book. Then suddenly, in the last couple of chapters, he’s got a full-fledged girlfriend practically living on the ranch. So the concluding chapter is about how the ranch, how life even, is at least a two-person job, not just because it’s easier, but also because it makes you happier. That’s all nice and swell, but it doesn’t match up with the rest of Fine’s self-important book. The epiphany just lacks sincerity.
Essentially, Fine uses and loses people throughout the book. It doesn’t work to his advantage because he himself is not the most sympathetic character. I even have the sneaking suspicion that he moved to New Mexico just to write this book. There’s no proof of course, except that his whole adventure is highly publicized. Besides the book, Fine regularly updates his Web site, www.farewellmysubaru.com. If he were trying to teach people to leave a lighter carbon footprint, that’d be one thing, but everything reads like a journal entry.
Like, he’s so enthralling. Well, Mr. Attention Whore, I didn’t like your book!
Farewell My Subaru is just OK. Read it at your own risk. But you might just become too annoyed or bored to finish.
Farewell, My Subaru**$24
How to be the unmistakable star of your own book:
1. Don’t create any characters that are cooler than you. To be on the safe side, just don’t develop any other characters. 2. For jokes: if you thought it, it’s probably funny. So write it down. Don’t spare the reader any of your brilliantly trite remarks. 3. Don’t forget to pimp your Web site. Even reading is a multimedia experience now.
See the authorAuthor Doug Fine at Powell’s Book on BurnsideMonday, April 21 at 7:30 p.m.