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Driving Mr. Albert: 07/17/06
Lately it seems we are awash in travel memoirs. Perhaps it is the apparent ease at which they write themselves. The author goes on a trip from point A to point B and jots down all the wacky stuff that happens along the way. The trip might even be a source of emotional or spiritual evolution. Travels with Charley and I & Claudius are examples of travel memoirs that work. Driving Mr. Albert is an example of what can go wrong in this genre.
A well written memoir will still have a structure to it, usually tied to the geography of the trip taken. The chapter breaks often correspond to specific regions or stop overs. Sometimes these chapters are individual essays and sometimes the book is one long narrative with an over arching structure. Driving Mr. Albert is an odd mish-mash of essay, bad poetry, reporting, essay and narrative.
Here is my BookCrossing review:
I think Paterniti was trying to write some sort of modern-day Beat generation poetry of his trip across the country with Harvey and a piece of Einstein's brain. While there are sections in the book filled with fascinating tid bits of history or local color, for the most part, the author's rambling style doesn't work. There are too many jumps in thoughts, locations and times to give the story of the drive a coherent feel. Then there is Paterniti's rather off putting fascination with touching Einstein's brain. It's a 40 year old poorly preserved chunk of biomatter: whatever is left of it probably won't be the key to universe's mysteries. Although it is a short book, I had to struggle to finish it.
Another flaw in the book is its focus. Paterniti spends far too much time speaking of himself and his history when the book is about Albert Einstein, his life, work, death and the life his brain has had since his death. I was not interested in Paterniti's home life and history. He was the chauffer and the writer, yes, but the story isn't about him no matter how hard he tries to include himself into the narrative. He is not interesting!