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Read Interstate: A Novel (1997)

Interstate: A Novel (1997)

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3.76 of 5 Votes: 2
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0805050280 (ISBN13: 9780805050288)
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Interstate: A Novel (1997) - Plot & Excerpts

It would be easy to assume that Interstate comes across as a kind of MFA writing exercise: in eight different sections, tell and retell the horrific story of a shooting on an interstate, in which a father and his older daughter watch his younger daughter die. But this is not some postmodern version of the film Groundhog Day, nor does it come across as a novel built more on style and flash than substance and heart. Dixon has serious themes he is exploring, and the novel's structure is in service to those themes. At the heart of the novel is Dixon's blistering exploration of violence in American society. The most obvious example is the anguish that Nathan Frey feels over the inexplicable death of his young daughter Julie, and the repercussions of this death for Nathan, his wife, and his daughter Margo. I can see why some readers couldn't finish this novel. I found the opening two sections to be so wrenching, so visceral, that I had to pace myself, and read short sections in brief sittings. I have read books with disturbing subject matter before, but Dixon's novel affected me even more than usual. Dixon's writing style, with many long, run-on sentences, brings the reader directly into Nathan's memories, into his tortured recollections of this terrible event. The result is an almost claustrophobic connection with Nathan, but also an inspired reconstruction of how we talk to ourselves and, most important, how we relive and recreate memories of traumas. Dixon's exploration of the instability of memory is fascinating. Which of the retellings of these events on the interstate is true? Can we ever fix one version of reality firmly? What roles do fantasy and magical thinking have in how we experience past traumas? In addition to the the shooting on the interstate, Dixon expands his study of violence in American culture to consider other kinds of violence, including road rage, revenge killings, generational shifts in violence and the socio-economic causes of those changes, the violence of American culture as seen in video games, and even an exasperated parent's feelings of impatience and the small but indelible acts of violence with children that those feelings generate. He explores these different manifestations throughout the different versions of the shooting, sometimes in graphic descriptions of Nathan's actions, sometimes through conversations he has with Margo and Julie (conversations that he often pitches way above their ability to understand), and sometimes through Nathan's pained recollections of his impatience with his daughters. I struggled with this book, but I am very grateful that I read it. There are many novels that explore violence in America, but few that stayed with me for weeks, that made me think about the effects of violence in such a visceral way, that take on all the different acts of violence, big and small, that come together to create a culture of violence in the US. This is not an easy book to read, but it's a crucial book, especially to read on the heels of tragedies like the Sandy Hook shootings, and the killing of Trayvon Martin. It reminds us of the devastating personal toll of violence, and of the myriad acts of violence, large and small, that surround us -- and that we sometimes enact ourselves -- every day.

This book’s premise was promising. It immediately caught my attention because it sounded like completely like something I’d love to read. It is about an accident on the interstate told over and over from different points and perspectives; one of the kind of books that is full of details and nuances. Unfortunately, it did not deliver on its promise.The main issue I found was its length. It really is too long. It is too “wordy”. I understand that most of it is stream-of-thought, but it could still be trimmed down to a more manageable level. Even the first chapter, when we see the whole accident and its consequences, would have needed a good edit. The first chapter, or the first “story”, is the best of the bunch, and I think would have been served better by standing alone. It is complex enough on its own and it really doesn’t need all the other retellings. The rest of the chapters feel superfluous, which is a harsh thing to say, since this does attempt to be a full-length novel, but it just droned on and on, every little minutia of the main character’s life told over and over, in different ways, yes, but not different enough to make it amusing. I really wanted to like this book, but it just didn’t work for me.

What do You think about Interstate: A Novel (1997)?

This is a truly unique novel but is so emotionally fraught, so dark and terrifying, so painful to read that it is hard to rate it and harder to recommend it. As a father myself, I found the initial chapters almost unbearably frightening and sad--I really wasn't sure I could finish it. The basis of the novel is the completely arbitrary and random shooting of a four year old girl while driving with her father on the interstate. The book is really about the father: his helplessness, his grief, his existential guilt, his attempt to cope with the unspeakable horror of what has happened. The angst of fatherhood, the mistakes, the amazing ability of children to forgive, the agony of being helpless to protect one's kids from danger are achingly portrayed.This is a beautifully written, stylistically interesting book, but an emotionally draining and unpleasant read that is not for everyone
—Alan Newman

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