How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive tells the story of a newspaper reporter living in western Massachusetts and trying to raise his son, a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. Born of grief and fueled by stories, the Volkswagen is hopeful, smug and fraught with mechanical problems. Drawing on John Muir’s book by the same title, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive assembles surreal vignettes and automotive manual excerpts which chronicle the narrator’s attempts to make sense of his off-kilter world, to write the book we’re reading, and to be a father to his Volkswagen son.
“How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is definitely the next book you should read. It’ll be the most fun you’ll ever have getting sad.”
—Adam Levin, author of The Instructions
“Christopher Boucher joins a now-forgotten handbook with Steven Wright’s old joke* about mistakenly sticking a car key in a house door and builds a new, exuberant novel-world. Goofiness and grief are in perfect harmony in this impressive, moving debut.”
—Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Writing to save your life–and your 1971 Volkswagen–is at the heart of this wildly imaginative debut. The car isn’t just like a son to the narrator, it is his son. A series of whimsical adventures set in Northampton, Mass., find memory and fiction assuming anthropomorphic dimensions and rules about “parts and action… changing and changing back, with no warning.” Raising a Beetle involves feeding it the crazy stories of characters like the Memory of My Father, named after the narrator’s real father, who was killed by a Heart Attack Tree one morning in Amherst; a mother who is actually two characters (the One Side of My Mother complains to the television; the Other Side of My Mother cleans up the kitchen); an array of nettlesome former girlfriends such as the Lady Made Entirely of Stained Glass, whose shattered bits, used to fix one of the Beetle’s “eyes,” brilliantly “broadcast” her hues “onto the roads of Northampton”; and of course the Beetle himself, a mischievous fellow indeed. Boucher brings even more formal fun to the mix by basing his book on the famous 1969 manual by John Muir. Readers are in for a fresh, memorable ride with this inventive “collage of loss.”
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*”The other night I came home late, and tried to unlock my house with my car keys. I started the house up. So, I drove it around for a while. I was speeding, and a cop pulled me over. He asked where I lived. I said, ‘Right here, officer.'”
– Steven Wright