|Last Chance Texaco
by Christine Pountney
Faber and Faber, 263 pp.
Christine Pountney was born in Vancouver, grew up in Montreal and now lives in London. Her first book, Last Chance Texaco, is a rousing road-trip novel. Pountneys young Quixote, John Wade, begins his journey in Bella Colla, B.C., grows up in small-town coastal California, and at 18 sets out cross-continent in a Dodge Omni. All he knows for sure is that he wants to get to New York City.
The novel is built of three polished sections three chances for the young man to find his way. Theyre each so complete that they might have been left as novellas, but together make an impressive triptych. Part One involves the new girl in town, Anna. Part Two is the broke hitchhiker, Hannah. Part Three is Johns (and the Omnis) breakdown and recovery at a health food store in upstate New York. If this all sounds a bit too cute for its own good, Pountneys tale does verge on the sort of naiveté which made Paolo Coelhos 1987 novella, The Alchemist, such a big seller.
Still, Pountneys novel succeeds in its own right. She writes in an unadorned, modern style that suits her story well. You can almost feel the characters ache as they drive through the heat of the desert, stopping for cigarettes and supper at a roadside diner. She writes, "I looked around the café.... It was seven-thirty in the evening. I wanted to hold onto that moment. I wanted to trap it, to stop time, because I didnt know what was going to happen. I didnt want to know. I couldnt control the outcome, but I wanted Hannah to know how desperately I needed this to work."
Last Chance Texaco does work. Anyone desperate to get away this winter might just begin with this book.