Review

Alison's Automotive Repair Manual

by Brad Barkley



Brad Barkley's new novel ALISON'S AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR MANUAL is the
type of fable about southern living that belongs right beside
Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize- winning masterpiece TO KILL A
MOCKINGBIRD. Although Barkley's novel does not encounter the racial
overtones of Lee's 1961 bestseller, ALISON'S AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR
MANUAL paints an enriching landscape of everyday life in Wiley
Ford, West Virginia through the eyes of protagonist and recently
widowed Alison Durst.

In an attempt to reconcile with the loss of her husband Marty,
Alison is living with her sister Sarah and brother-in-law Bill and
stumbles upon a 1976 Corvette in their garage that is in dire need
of attention. The similarities between Lee's Atticus Finch, a
widower with two small children on his hands, and Alison are
remarkable. While Atticus does all he can to raise his children
right while defending a wrongly accused black man during the
Depression, Alison struggles with her identity in a contemporary
southern town with people who aren't too comfortable with a woman
peeking her head under the hood of a sports car and getting grease
under her fingernails. Instead of getting on with her life and
returning to teaching at the nearby college, Alison tackles the
task of repairing the Corvette without knowing a thing about auto
repair and this is where Barkley's work shines the most.

While her sister Sarah and her husband Bill can only shake their
heads in disbelief over Alison's attempt at salvaging the Corvette,
Alison is befriended by Max Kesler, the local demolitions expert
and, before long, Alison turns the ignition key and her 'Vette
roars to life.

Barkley, author of the acclaimed novel MONEY, LOVE, adds a snippet
from Haynes Automotive Repair Manual: Chevrolet Corvette, 1968 Thru
1982 before each of the 14 chapters of the book that somehow
correlate with the flow of the story and the progress of the
restoration of Alison's beloved chariot. Barkley's description of
the nuances involved in repairing the tattered Corvette is
magnificent. With the Haynes manual by her side and with the help
of Mr. Beachy, the owner of AAAA Auto Parts, the car gets as much
an overhaul as Alison can afford.

The novel also contains a bittersweet love story between Alison and
Max, the father of Gordon Kesler, the town's outspoken compulsive
liar. Alison does all she can to keep the thoughts of her late
husband Marty close to her heart, while realizing that falling in
love with somebody like Max could be exactly what the doctor
ordered. Or could it? Meanwhile, Max, who has a tattoo of cartoon
character Yosemite Sam, fears Alison is getting to close to his
lying father during routine visits to Sarah's house, where a group
of elderly residents from the nearby nursing home come to take
dance lessons on a weekly basis.

While the pace of the book may seem stuck in first gear to some
readers, the entire story is completely well thought out and
contains a conclusion that ties the entire message of the story
together extremely well. The novel is also filled with hysterics
that seem to happen at just the right time. Whether it's Barkley's
comical depiction of Alison and Max attending Bingo night or the
calamity of Gordon Kesler's countless fabrications, there is plenty
of laughter to go around.

Not enough can be said of Barkley's depiction of life in a sleepy
southern town like Wiley Ford. From the description of the garage
that houses Alison's Corvette, to the insides of the auto parts
store complete with a bubble gum machine or the details of the
local diner, Barkley has ALISON'S AUTOMOTIVE REPAIR MANUAL firing
on all cylinders.

Reviewed by David Exum on January 20, 2011

Alison's Automotive Repair Manual
by Brad Barkley

  • Publication Date: February 1, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 0312325797
  • ISBN-13: 9780312325794