Thursday, July 15, 2010

Abandoned Cars

Sometimes you just want to drive on forever.

It’s that weird feeling that creeps in on a long overnight drive. Travelling along black highways and dark roads, sealed in this noisy and warm tin box, the mind can go to some strange places. The horizon is gone and it feels like you could punch on through the darkness into forever, moving on the endless road.

It can also get pretty damn depressing as the head spins over and over. Start a long drive in the wrong frame of mind and you can end up going a little mad. And if you’re having a real bad time – if your life is slipping through your fingers into the gutter as you fumble for the keys – night driving can take you right out there to the long, dark depths of the soul.

Most of the characters in Abandoned Cars – a terrific book of Tim Lane’s short stories collected by Fantagraphics a couple of years back – have driven themselves into a very bad place. They all suffer from the burden of living in the modern world, bent crooked by the weight of failed relationships, destroyed families and the big lie of the American Dream. Most of them are on that drive into oblivion, even if they’re physically standing still.

Every abandoned car has a story and Lane cracks open the bonnet to show the pain. The drivers all want out, but don’t have anywhere else to go, so they go there anyway. They’re all driving somewhere, and sometimes they drift off the side of the road peacefully and sometimes they impale themselves on oak.

Even characters that have the comfort of daily routine – joints in the morning before work – drive other people other with their mundane schedule. We’re all fighting time, but we don’t have to make ourselves so miserable.

Deep within the barroom psychosis, Lane looks into the abyss and thinks about spitting into it. The drive that leads to destruction can also be a powerful and satisfying personal experience. While each story in Abandoned Cars ties together in a thick knot of dread, the best story sees Lane go on a blatantly autobiographical adventure, and head out for an adventure by jumping on trains.

He gets to tell the world that he is the dark romantic and it’s worth any cold danger. He comes back to the world with new eyes and is still completely lost up his own arse. There are no revelations or answers on the road, but at least he’s looking. We all have to start somewhere.

The same concession for effort can be seen in Lane’s art. It’s occasionally clumsy and tries a little bit hard with its chunky blacks and wavering faces, but it’s charmingly clunky, generating real mood and wonderful ugliness.

And occasionally, it’s just beautiful - catching the dead eye of a lost soul, or depicting an era of fast cars and loose women that never really existed in the first place. The world has moved on from many of the characters in Abandoned Cars, and Lane leaves them stranded in their own personal oblivion.

It’s not a nice place to be and all they can do is try and drive their way out of it. What else is there? Drive, baby, drive.

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