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Alison's Automotive Repair Manual: A Novel Hardcover – March 10, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (March 10, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312291388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312291389
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,708,679 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Alison lives in a small West Virginia town with her sister and brother-in-law. As Alison's Automotive Repair Manual opens, her main occupation is mourning her husband, who died in an accident two years ago. Her sister, her friends, and her former boss at the community college have all grown weary of her grief, and beg her to move on. But Alison is paralyzed, maybe partially because she wasn't all that crazy about her husband in the first place. One day she discovers a disintegrating 1976 Corvette in her sister's garage and finally thinks of something she'd like to do: repair the Vette. Alison knows nothing about cars, but pegs away at her project anyhow, knowing all the while that "the whole thing was folly." Meanwhile, we follow her healing, her new love for a munitions expert named Max, her sister's quest to get pregnant, and the (literal) exposure of the town's secret history. While Alison is an appealingly complex character, forever stumbling into gaffes, the book is a little too neat, with its themes, goals, and love interests laid out tidily in the first 40 pages. But fans of quirky Southerners such as Jill McCorkle will find a sympathetic new voice here. --Claire Dederer

From Publishers Weekly

Automotive repair doubles as grief therapy in Barkley's quirky, emotionally resonant third novel (after Money, Love) set in a small town in West Virginia, where a newly widowed young woman tries to delay putting her life back together. Alison Durst is the witty, 30-ish protagonist who's become a semipermanent guest of her sister Sarah and brother-in-law Bill ever since her husband died in an accident. She's already spent two years in mourning, and in spite of Sarah and Bill's pleas that she get on with it, Alison makes yet another bid to prolong her suspended state: she's going to rebuild her brother-in-law's broken-down Corvette, and then she'll leave. Of course, she knows nothing about cars. Sparks really start to fly, however, when Max Kesler, the owner of a one-man munitions company, comes to help her with the project. Their initial dates are as explosive as they are funny, with Alison accompanying Max while he blows up a silo and then scopes out the hotel that may be his next target. Barkley spends a bit too much time on Max's father, a compulsive liar whose habit is beginning to interfere with Max's relationship with Alison. This subplot slows the romantic momentum, but the combination of Barkley's understated comic style and well-calibrated dialogue is more than enough to overcome the misstep. The icing on the cake is the author's touching portrayal of smalltown life in West Virginia.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

I grew up in North Carolina where I still visit a few times a year. After that, I have lived on the coast of Maryland, the mountains of Arkansas, the coast of North Carolina (again), and the mountains of Maryland (again). A pattern emerges. Besides Scrambled Eggs At Midnight, I am the author of two novels and two story collections for adults. I have also co-authored (with Heather Hepler) Dream Factory and Jars of Glass. To learn more about my work, please visit www.bradbarkley.com

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I've been reading Barkley's work for several years, and this novel shines. He does an admirable job of portraying a woman widowed in her thirties, inspects grief without oversentimentalizing, and even manages to weave a great deal of humor into a book that travels through the murkiness of memory and loss.
Set in a small West Virginia town, the novel brings you exactly the kinds of Southern characters you'd hope for: quirky, endearing, and full of the kinds of eccentricities that make you want to plunk yourself down in the middle of the story to talk to them for a while.
Buy it. Read it. You won't be sorry.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Manhattan Mom on December 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book. It is the story of Alison, wa woman in her thirties who is widowed when her husband dies in an accident. Like some woman in this situation, Alison romanticizes her relationship with Marty to the point that she is unable to get on with her life in any concrete way. After two years of wallowing in misery, she begins to rebuild a totally rundown 1976 Corvette.
THe novel is cleverly written. Each chapter heading is a section of an automotive repair manual, that gives you a brief description of what Alison is going to learn in the ensuing chapter.
What I liked best about this novel was the complexity of the characters that we meet. There are no wasted characters. Everyone we meet is well texted, they are complete, and they have strengths and weaknesses, and some are not all that likeable. Most of the dialogue is good- to the point, few embelishments, and very realistic. You capture a nice picture of small town America. I was not always happy with the interior narrative of Alison however. Sometimes I felt the narrator was a little too detached, and I guess this supposed to be part of Alison's character, but it separated me a little too much from Alison, and sometimes I really didn't like her character. This is always a big literary sticking point with me- how is the reader supposed to feel about the hero? Are we supposed to like them, or is that too pat?
I also didn't see the pattern of Alison's growth very clearly. I don't like things spelled out, but I think the reader needed to make too many leaps and guesses as to how Alison's character developed throughout the novel. I guess I was not convinced of any real transformation.
But, that aside, I think this is a novel that deserves to be read, and discussed, and reread.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
With it's wise-cracking dialogue and oddball characters, this book explores serious themes of loss (accidental and intentional), love and death, and truth. Alison Durst, a former badgirl turned community college history teacher, still mourns the accidental death of her husband Marty after more than a year, and Sarah, her married (but not comfortably so, as she and her husband Bill struggle to get pregnant), encourages her to get on with her life. She meets Max, but of course pushes him away at first as he competes with the ghost of Marty. She is drawn to him--he, the munitions expert, adept at destroying things, buildings, silos, relationships--and at the same time sets about trying to make things right. Against a background that at first seems silly--the unifying thread is Alison's restoration of a hopeless 1976 Corvette--this book does a masterful job of portraying, and resolving, Alison's conflicts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In "Bird by Bird" Anne Lamott says she wishes there were more funny books about cancer. No, Barkley's novel is not a funny book about cancer, but it is a funny book about grief. Not funny ha-ha, but funny like all the absurdly inexplicable losses in your own life, once you have a little perspective on them. "Alison's Automotive Repair Manual" deftly carries the weight of a great loss, but couples it with the lightness of eccentric and endearing characters. The balance is perfect, for Alison, and for the reader. We never feel her recovery is too easy -- she has to get her fingernails dirty, in all sorts of ways -- but by the end we are convinced such hard-won recoveries are possible, and usually come in unlikely packages.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By monica on May 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Okay, so it's not a page-turner. This book is a subtle treat. The author has an amazing grasp on small town life, and the people who make it so. The repairing of the 1976 Corvette shows an obvious parallel to Alison's soul.
After her husband dies, Alison moves to a small town in West Virginia with her sister. The devistation of losing her partner is too much for her to bear. She finds herself unable to work, live alone, or love.
When she discovers the Corvette in her sisters garage she goes through a slow metamophosis while making it new again. She learns that it is possible to go on. If the car can do it, so can she.
The townspeople become her own, and she even manages to find a bit of romance. This is an excellent book with a wonderful positive message. Go out and get it.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Source : Netgalley / Publisher ARC
Rating : 3/5

Alison Durst lives with her sister Sarah and brother-in-law Bill as she attempts to recover from the death of her husband Marty, two years ago. Family, friends, ex-co-workers (Alison used to be a teacher at the community college) exhort her to move on, but Alison seems to be stuck, unable to move beyond the stage of shell-shocked bereavement. To get them off her back, and to set some kind of hard goal before herself, Alison decides to set about restoring the 1976 Corvette which sits unused and dilapidated in Bill’s garage. Once the restoration is complete she decides, it will be time to move on with her life.

Alison of course does not know the first thing about car repair, but with a manual at hand, and advice from the local automotive store (manned by a preacher-mechanic, who plies her with pamphlets about the Lord’s word along with car-parts), she starts to potter around.Things take a turn for the romantic when munitions expert Max Kesler makes an appearance and starts to casually assist her with her car repairs after warning her that the project is foolhardy.

I picked up this book expecting a romance, but it turned out to be a subtle look at life in a close-knit community. Sarah is a dance teacher, and we get a good look at all the senior folk who make up the dance class and their quirks and problems. Then there are Sarah and Bill themselves, with Bill desperately wanting a baby. Each of these characters is dealt with realistically, displaying facets the author wishes to portray of human life – the highs, the lows and the in-betweens.
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