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Life at These Speeds: A Novel Paperback – July 1, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The narrator of Jackson's debut novel is Kevin Schuler, an eighth grader from a small Missouri town; he's popular, athletic and dates the cutest girl in school. But his life is shattered when the van carrying most of his friends home from a track meet skids into the river and all on board are killed. From that moment on, Kevin is transformed: he transfers to a different school, becomes a track prodigy and struggles with repressed memories of his dead friends. His success attracts a lot of attention from doctors, school administrators, girls and he becomes a local sensation, though not everyone's interest in his progress is entirely ethical. The events of the novel take on a slightly surreal cast from the boy's skewed perspective, which lies somewhere between damaged adolescent, reluctant hero and ironic sage. This confusion is compounded by the incongruously sophisticated first-person narration Kevin possesses the vocabulary and insight of a Ph.D. candidate (his first impression of his coach is that the older man "exuded a languidness I imagined arose from sexual experience"). Kevin's family and friends, who help him through his crisis, are portrayed rather flatly, despite their often bizarre names (Bobolink Crustacean, Umber Porphorhessohln), though one exception is Andanda Dane, the school newspaper editor who carries a torch for Kevin. Despite (or perhaps because of) its flaws, this debut has an undeniably quirky charm; it will be interesting to see what Jackson does next.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

When the school van veers off a bridge and plunges into the river below, everyone on the track team is killed except star Kevin Schuler, who rode home with his parents that evening. Repressing almost all memory of that season, Kevin begins high school in a different district, where he remains isolated from other students and teammates. Claiming he hates running, the star athlete nonetheless finds peace in it, losing himself in concentration when he runs. As Kevin sets more records and becomes locally famous, the clouds that hang over him take on new forms and he must successfully navigate his own course through all the noise of the outside world, dodging those who would tempt him in different directions. Jackson's first novel presents an unpredictable and unique protagonist who defies categorization. The first-person narration provides a glimpse into Schuler's mind, yet the voice is detached enough that he remains almost as much a mystery to the reader as to other characters. The unforgettable and complex main character makes this novel well worth reading. Gavin Quinn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312313667
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312313661
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,333,074 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grant Barber on June 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
If you read the existing reviews and the inside jacket cover you know that the premise of the book is a narrator who is the only surviving member of high school track team after a tragic accident. One way to read the book is to see how the author uses the incident--and it is fairly quickly set up at the start of the book--and then unspools the consequences for the narrator.
What such a description would leave out though is how well Jackson has created a world through his first person narrator. The voice stays. You see out of the eyes of this boy as he moves from 14 to 18. Along the way details come out about his life, the accident, his community's response. Running is the governing metaphor here. The book isn't grim, but sure rings true...well, until the end. There are really two moments of conclusion, one which does reach a logical conclusion but in just a bit too formulaic manner regarding the people around the narrator--his tragic best friend, coaches, doctors,high school teachers. But the second 'conclusion,' the one that shows the inner life of the narrator facing up to the trajedy that started it all off: that has merit and original honesty.
Once I started the book, I continued until finish. The next day it stays with me. I'm going to be putting it into the hands of others.
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By A Customer on October 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
My favorite novels are character-driven and Life at These Speeds is a beautiful example. Witty, sarcastic, but ultimately vulnerable, Kevin draws you into his private world. I was brought to tears as I went through the tragedies that shaped the young adult Kevin becomes. I take exception with the Publisher's Weekly review that said the book was unbelievable. I think it was meant to be more allegorical, and therefore, the characters may be extreme displays of archetypes. Jol's father is the very definition of the parent who lives his dreams through his son. Andanda is the sophisticate every high school intellectual would yearn to be. Kevin is the one grounded character who is strengthened by the good or bad relationship he has with every character he meets.
When this book was first recommended to me, I doubted I'd be able to relate to a junior high track star. Although Kevin's specific struggles were unique, the overall challenges of becoming an adult he faced are universal. Jeremy Jackson's writing style drew me in with each page. I eagerly wait to read his next book.
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By A Customer on March 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
It's exciting to come across a first novel as good as this one, to get in at the beginning of an author's career and have a shot at developing a relationship with him as he develops--maybe someday you'll be able to brag about it in the same way people brag about going to see Springsteen when he was still an unknown, though I hope I never turn out to be that boring. There aren't many young authors on my list of people to watch, but Jackson is one. I don't recall that his novel got much buzz when it was published, not like the decidedly hip "Prague" and "Everything's Illuminated," for instance. The style and subject matter of LIFE AT THESE SPEEDS does not lend itself to any sort of hip marketing hook that flatters pseudointellectual readers who use books as accessories to reinforce their hipness, I suppose. Instead, it's a book for readers. It is a coming-of-age novel, but it defies the formula with its unself-consciousness and avoidance of cliches, and it both honors and expands the genre. The flirtation with surrealism--in the choice of characters' names, for instance--maybe doesn't add much to the novel, and some of the absurd Helleresque encounters between Kevin and adults in the novel don't fully work, but I don't agree with some readers' and reviewers' objections that the narrator's voice and the dialog of his classmates are unrealistic because they sound too grown up to be an adolescent. Without being too reductive, I hope, I think that part of the author's intent is to bring an eloquence of expression to adolescence that will be recognizable to adult readers--i.e., in effect to translate adolescence into adult language.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
Kevin Schuler, the high school running star in "Life at These Speeds," has to be one of the most aloof first-person narrators I've ever experienced. While frustrating at times, this narrative technique forced me to experience the same nearly-maddening difficulty establishing an emotional connection with Kevin as do his friends and family in the novel. The result is a powerful depiction of a psychologically fractured adolescent's struggle to overcome a tragic experience and reawaken his dormant emotional core.

While running pervades this novel and the author clearly has an affinity for the sport, success on the track is not central to the conflict. Indeed, running becomes for Kevin the ultimate escape mechanism, through which he's able to while away his adolescent hours and achieve admiration among his peers while avoiding his repressed trauma. Kevin rarely, if ever, seems in jeopardy of failure on the track, as if the emotional trauma he has sustained is so brutal that he's become completely numbed to the discomfort associated with the intense training sessions and record-breaking performances that he ticks off with ease. This lack of emotion is effective in a literary sense, yet it renders the descriptions of training and racing somewhat hollow.

All in all, this is a strong novel with sufficient depth to satisfy the literary crowd and enough track and cross-country content to please readers of running fiction.

-Kevin Joseph, author of "The Champion Maker"
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