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The God of Driving: How I Overcame Fear and Put Myself in the Driver's Seat (with the Help of a Good and Mysterious Man) Hardcover – August 24, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Collins, a style journalist, society page regular and phobic nondriver, charts her road to automotive freedom in an entertaining look at a skill many people take for granted. But this is less the story of a fashion diva transforming herself into a gear head, trading limos and taxis for Ducatis and Vipers (or even for the driving school's '92 Acura, which she eventually purchases), than the tale of the awkward, tender, complicated friendship that blossoms between Collins and her instructor, Attila, a Turkish-born enigma with a preternatural talent for teaching driving. Their bond forms quickly, as Attila, a former inventor, textile designer, masseur and night club owner, impresses Collins with his calm confidence and soothes her fears about being behind the wheel. Soon she's correcting his English and he's doling out pieces of his unique worldview. As Collins becomes more confident, she and Attila are given incredible vehicles to drive and race tracks on which to practice (a lesson in what being a special correspondent to Vanity Fair will get you). In between jaunts and lessons, they happily psychoanalyze each other. Though it's sometimes a bit stiff, this is a sweet story of an education in both driving and life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Collins, a socialite and writer for Vanity Fair, decided it was time to overcome her driving phobia. She enrolled in a driving school and got more than she bargained for. Her teacher, a Turkish expatriate named Attila, not only got her out on the highway but he also changed her life. Collins chronicles what happens both on and off the road, as she finds herself drawn into the life of Attila, an enigmatic, charismatic, all-wise teacher who knows her better than she knows herself. With names of fashion designers and other glitterati dropped into the story as easily as the names of the luxury cars in which Collins hones her skills, this quirky tale is about much more than overcoming the fear of driving (after a year of lessons, Collins only manages to solo a couple of times). The star of the story is clearly Attila, who will be as intriguing to readers as he is to the author. The narrative is a bit precious but nonetheless endearing, and it definitely begs for a sequel, spelling out just where the final kiss on the cheek leads. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Indeed, the writing quality of The God of Driving suggests that what Collins really needs is a Deity of Diction or a Saint of Syntax. There are misspellings and typos: "supercede"; "prize open" instead of "pry open" (a door), and misuses of such words as "comprise," "intriguing," and "ethnic." Just as annoying, given the choice of a simple, direct word or a genteelism, Collins generally goes for bloat: "diminutive" rather than "small"; "resided" instead of "lived"; "purchased" rather than "bought," etc.
It's also hard not to groan at her "art history lite" similes: a seat belt "snaked itself around my chest like one of Laocoön's attacking serpents"; "Like an Olympian arrow launched from Diana's bow, he shot onto Park Avenue"; a Maserati engine "rippled beneath our stunned gazes like the abdominal muscles of a Roman god." Then there are Collins's inaccurate classical references--Terence, not Seneca, wrote "Nothing human is alien to me"--and her dubious pronouncements on academic matters: art history is a "field that deals in ideas more than things," I was surprised to learn. Overall, the writing tone is effete and bloodless, the dialogue arch and unrealistic.
Some of these problems would be forgivable if Collins herself weren't so insufferable. Her conceitedness can be breathtaking...almost comic: "What were [Attila and I] doing together--and what would have happened to him if he had never met me?"; "Normally the kind of person who's invisible to me...[Attila] wanted to prove to me that he wasn't at the bottom of the food chain." (With her frequent name-dropping of celebrities, designers, and opulent car brands, it's clear that Collins herself is the one with something to prove.)
Coming as all this does from a middle-class Tennessean who married up to New York WASP money, one expects to hear a bit of self-deprecation when Collins touches on class-related matters. Yet she takes herself seriously. She's led what she calls a "cerebral" life, writing about divas, decorators, and glitterati for Vanity Fair. It's no surprise that Collins finds Bentleys--ride of choice of hip-hop moguls and Mafiosi--so alluring.
As her recitation of luxe goods reaches its apogee ("Into the secret compartments of the Vanson jacket I zipped my cell phone and a tube of MAC Viva Glam lipstick"), one wonders what Collins is trying to achieve...aside from evoking the envy of aspiring nouveaux riches.
As a quasi-romance, this book has little to offer. The Amy-Attila relationship never rises above infatuation, as the author's coy overtures are rebuffed by the smug, elusive Turk. Though there are a few moments of genuine, adult tenderness, Collins comes off as rather girlish for a woman pushing fifty...longing breathily for a dominant-yet-caring father-figure in Attila.
As a self-help text, will this inspire many auto-phobes to take driving lessons? It's unlikely. Like its author, the book is thin on substance and big on superficial externalities...mediocrity decked out in lavish accoutrements. Could a sequel be in the cards? Nisht fur dich gedacht!