Kevin Schuler, an eighth grader in rural Missouri, is at a track meet with his team. At the end of the evening, he returns home in his family's car, but the rest of the team takes the school van, only to slide off a bridge into a river. Kevin alone lives. Kevin alone goes on to enter high school, insisting he no longer wants to run but becoming a record-breaking runner. Although he's suppressed the memories and even the names of his friends, they come back to him slowly, in pieces. Although he does not care about his success, although he watches life from the sidelines and passes the people in his world off with a certain tongue-in-cheek sadness, they are still drawn to him, though not necessarily for the right reasons.
LIFE AT THESE SPEEDS is undeniably well written. While perhaps not realistic (he is much too mature for his age), Kevin is an interesting narrator. I enjoyed the way he favored no one and viewed most of those around him as a sad joke. Jeremy Jackson's use of language is both eloquent and effective. The plot, however, seemed stretched thin overall and without clear direction, meandering unfettered through one boy's tortured life. This is not necessarily bad, but some readers (like me) may at times lose interest. And while the insights presented are captivating, they do not always ring true.
The descriptions of Kevin's races are taut and laced with ellusive tension, but readers interested in serious track and running may also be disappointed. LIFE AT THESE SPEEDS is first and foremost a poignant, dreamlike coming-of-age novel.