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How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Novel Paperback – August 9, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Boucher creates a fun, bluesy work that deals with the difficulty of parenting, coping with loss and how people navigate romantic relationships; in a sense, HTKYVA is an instruction manual for the human heart....Unforgettable."  —Rhea Ramey, Time Out New York (5/5 stars)

"Innovative, addictive, bonkers and beautiful" —Jonathan Messinger, Time Out Chicago

"Writing to save your life—and your 1971 Volkswagen—is at the heart of this wildly imaginative debut... Readers are in for a fresh, memorable ride with this inventive 'collage of loss'" —Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

"Strange and dazzling...Through all the insanity and dizzying leaps of logic that make up Boucher’s world are a series of absolutely human and recognizable truths." —Emily St. John Mandel, The Millions

"Accomplished, wrenching." —The Kenyon Review

"Boucher's first novel is one of the most original books you will read this year."  —Roxane Gay, HTMLGiant

"Boucher is a deft mechanic...possessed of a special skill to diagnose malfunctioning language by ear, to hear where words are misaligned...." —Eamon, O'Connor, Full-Stop 

"This is a head-tilting exercise in literary shape-shifting." —Identity Theory

"Boucher’s clever turns of phrase and his playfulness with words are also hallmarks of this oddball tale. And despite the wonkiness, the enchanting novelist keeps the plot well-oiled and in gear throughout." —Austen Diamond, Salt Lake City Weekly

"There is a fair amount of vulgar language used and taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are references to premarital sex, which the author calls 'faith or faithing.'" —The Deseret News (Salt Lake City)

“As moving as it is fun, How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is definitely the next book you should read.”  —Adam Levin, author of The Instructions

"Christopher Boucher joins a now-forgotten handbook with Steven Wright's old joke about mistakenly sticking a car key in a house door and builds a new, exuberant novel-world. Goofiness and grief are in perfect harmony in this impressive, moving debut." —Sam Lipsyte, author of The Ask

"Boucher is our Brautigan. From an alchemy of melancholy and innocence, he coins beautiful malapropisms that overtake the dogged stretches of our language. A whimsy so charismatic you find yourself thinking and, yes, talking in Boucherisms."  —Salvador Plascencia, author of The People of Paper

About the Author

Christopher Boucher received his MFA in Fiction from Syracuse University, where he studied with George Saunders and Junot Díaz. Before moving to Syracuse, he worked as the Arts and Entertainment Writer for The Daily Hampshire Gazette, and drove (when it started) a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle. He currently teaches writing and literature at Boston College, and is the managing editor of Post Road Magazine. In his free time, he plays banjo in a bluegrass band.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (August 9, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935554638
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935554639
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,345,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John S. Abrahams on November 26, 2011
Format: Paperback
Previous reviews of this book are funny. "One Million Monkeys" nailed it, and others -- what, did they think they were buying a repair manual?

Well, if you need to fix your car, this won't help you, even though it made me miss my old Beetle, and I'll admit that I flipped through eBay Motors for a few minutes, thinking, "maybe..." But, it's a funny, sad, strange novel that plays with words, time, the whole idea of narrative, and asks the reader to think seriously about what books are and why we read them. I thought it was worth the challenge, and I admire the work.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By One Million Monkeys on August 9, 2011
Format: Paperback
What an amazing book! The writing-style is unlike anything you've seen before. (Okay, maybe in the same spirit as Vonnegut or Donald Barthelme, but with a very unique quality all of its own.) In this novel, words take on different meanings, locations drive away and can't be found, inanimate objects talk, weep, and sometimes even go to see therapists. Sometime "How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive" reads like a novel... and other times like an automotive manual. And yet--and I think THIS is the book's true triumph--despite all the playful madness of the prose, you always know exactly what the book is saying. There's an emotional clarity that never wavers, even if sometime the background scenery reminds you of Toon Town in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit." For all its stylishness, the book says some pretty profound things about death, loss, raising a kid, responsibility, etc. So it's that rare novel that should appeal both to some avant-garde experimentalist AND a reader who wants the emotional truth of, say, a poignant memoir. Totally audacious, totally different, totally weird, totally wonderful. What a great ride!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Book Babe on January 14, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a beautiful experimental novel (not a handbook for fixing your Volkswagen, people!). The author manages to be incredibly inventive and playful, and at the same time very heartfelt. You have to be willing to grant him poetic license, but if you do, the book really packs an emotional wallop. I highly recommend it for lovers of serious literary fiction.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Abeer Y. Hoque on December 11, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Her punch was an ocean."

Christopher Boucher's first novel, "How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive" is about a hapless nameless man and his son, a 1971 Volkswagon Beetle living in Northampton, MA. The language alone, the twisting of metaphor and meaning, is both HTKYVA's immense (surreal) gift and curse. Every page has some invention (money counted in time units), or some odd and wondrous character (The Heart Attack Tree, the Memory of my Father).

"The first sign of an old soldier I never knew, his beard a forest of dying snow."

I bought HTKYVA on the strength of Mr. Boucher's reading in Philadelphia. He read a phenomenal sequence about a toy war game and I was taken with its sly political overlay and how funny and clever it was. [Note that because I read a printed (signed!) copy of the book (instead of e-booking it as usual), I couldn't highlight the passages I loved. Luckily, there is enough awesomeness throughout that I could just pick out these phrases at random.]

"'A what?' the drum set said. His voice was smoky and cracked."

The chapters and sub headers follow an old famous (actual VW) manual (by the same name) but then HTKYVA departs radically from there. Sometimes, it seems Mr. Boucher is using these subdivisions to play out his considerable talent and create this alternate universe, and I found my attention wandering sometimes, because the plot and characters weren't always strong enough to pull it all together for me. That said, I loved the sheer inventiveness of the language and I'm more than looking forward to his next book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Happy reader on February 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a great, quick read. Boucher has a gift for language. I saw him read on tour, and I look forward to more of his work.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By White Rabbit on December 4, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
and btw, I read a fair bit, and am not averse to experimental literature. this book sounded so interesting that i forced myself to read every word, all the way through to the end, in case it magically coalesced into something stunningly brilliant, but i still didn't understand anything about the plot, the structure, the relationships, the motives, or the point. big hello. some very sad impressionistic broad strokes about immigrant families, the ties that bind & gag in old world marriages transplanted into the new, and the basic idea of missing a parent, but delivered w/less grace and psychological force than my 3-yr old's Dr Seuss stories on the same topics.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Bonham on August 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this debut novel as not only an avid reader but also as a Volkswagen fan, having been around the cars for years. I will say that a second or third reading may be needed for me, as I didn't really fully understand what I was reading through much of the book, which isn't really a criticism per se, just my experience.
I'm impressed with the author's imagination and talents as a writer, overall.
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