Thursday, October 8, 2009

Review of 'Changin' Gear's'

Here's my review of Andy Hollinger's Changin' Gears:

Andy's second racing novel, Changin' Gears, is a sequel to the first, Hangin' On, in the same way that the The Good Son is a sequel to Home Alone. It's a Macauley Culkin movie, right? Slapstick and fun-for-the-whole-family comedy, right? And then, wait, what the hell is this?

In Changin' Gears we're far less in the main character's head than we are out on the road, in the middle of the race, dodging the bullets and fenders of a neurotic lesbian assassin. That's right. I called Andy out on this last one and he admitted this is the one thread in the book that follows closest to real life.

In the first g-less gerund novel we follow the protagonist, an aging rally rider as he increasingly prioritizes riding in his life until he ultimately sees the bike for what it is, a vehicle for self realization. Our sequel's hero already knows this. He's a Cat I domestique with money in the bank and a hot wife. But, unlike in Hangin' where the tragic decisions of the characters unravel their own lives, the hero rider in Changin' is more like a Greek hero, a mortal perfect in form and purpose but resented and tormented by the gods. We see the very man we wish we could be trumped again and again by what we start to suspect is fate.

One starts to wonder if Andy's second novel isn't that at all, but rather a morality play, a lesson that if you ride too fast, if you make too much or if your wife is just too sexy, then, like Bellerophon or Icarus, you're in for a nasty fall. But Changin' Gears is neither of these. This time Andy examines the whole-life implications of striving for greatness. He examines the relentless and elusive self-sabotage of a would-be champion and the unintended consequences of choosing more time over more pay and articulate over big-boob'd. And he contrasts this careful and measured struggle with rabid and lustful striving for glory, which ends like a Tarantino telling of Xeno's paradox—almost reaching your goal before killing the one you love, mythologizing your enemy and going to jail.

But the best part of Hollinger's book is the setting, the Texas road racing scene. The assholes in this book are the very same assholes in our peloton. And while the names have been changed to protect the author from the guilty's lawyers, the races haven't. Much of the book plays out like a season re-cap. It's our own Texas Cup interwoven with a fantastic and lurid tale of sex and greed and guilt and, like the 30-something Cat V who unexpectedly wins his state championship on a thick-walled aluminum frame with compact gearing, a little bit of glory.