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on March 31, 2014 :
500 Miles to Go, by J. Conrad Guest
My parents loved watching Formula 1 races on TV, and the sound of cars speeding around the track always takes me straight back to childhood. So does J. Conrad Guest’s 500 Miles to Go, which evocatively recreates everything to do with the American USAC , from scary crashes, miraculous survival, pit-stops that always seemed impossibly fast, to, of course, that magical sound as the cars rear around the bends, seemingly ready to fly. I read as drivers jockey for position and expect to see my father, tense in his seat, watching, wondering if the favored car will find a gap. Mum’s telling me which driver’s honest and which one’s going to cheat his way to victory. English names fill me with pride. Foreign ones with memory. And it’s just plain fun.
Meanwhile, of course, there are drivers living real lives with lost loves, dashed hopes, and off-track arguments. 500 Miles to Go tells the story of one driver’s success and separation. “Lucky in cards, unlucky in love,” my Gran used to say, but Alex Król is lucky and skilled in cars, while his love life is more unfortunate.
Król is being interviewed by a newspaper reporter as the story starts. They eat, drink scotch, and smoke cigars; the author recreates the scent of cigar smoke on the air as evocatively as the sense of racing on the track, while the older man teases his interviewer, offering truths and half-truths, before plunging into revealing all. He's lured perhaps by her beauty and her obvious interest. But is she interested in him, or just in her article?
There’s a wealth of fascinating history in this novel, all told in the voice of a man who lived it and cares. And there’s a convincing sense of someone transcribing his words. A sweet love story gives way to the love affair with speed. And cigar smoke offers that sense of slow listening, where interviewees can speak in full paragraphs and tell the tale their own way. First loser becomes disillusioned winner, hindsight waxes philosophical, and a lonely man reminds us “One doesn’t find love... It’s not some object to be unearthed... Love is a choice.”
Is losing love a choice as well? As riders seek that median path, how do those of us on life’s track avoid being overtaken?
I started to enjoy this story for its evocative depiction of racing cars. In the end I loved it for its people, and I'm really glad I found the time to read it.
Disclosure: The author kindly gave me an ecopy and I offer my honest review.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)