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The Lost Highway [Hardcover]

David Adams Richards
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 20 2007 0385664966 978-0385664967 1st Edition
What had happened, from those days until now? And why had it? And how had his life gone? And who was to blame? Or why did he think he had to blame anyone? Certainly he couldn’t even blame Mr. Roach, caught in the same turmoil as everyone believing half-truths in order to blame other people. (p. 141)

These are the forlorn thoughts of Alex Chapman, the tragic anti-hero of David Adams Richards’ masterful novel The Lost Highway. An exploration of the philosophical contortions of which man is capable, the novel tracks the desperate journey of an eternally lost and orphaned child/man who has nearly squandered his frail birthright but might yet earn some degree of redemption.

Alex spent a stunted childhood watching his gentle mother defiled by rough-handed men including Roach, his biological father. Upon his mother’s death Alex is passed into the care of his hard-nosed great-uncle Jim Chapman, nicknamed “The Tyrant” by their Miramichi community. Alex’s uncle becomes a symbol of all that he loathes. Alex distinguishes himself from this brutal masculinity that stole his mother from himby becoming a self-imposed ascetic, entering the local seminary and rehearsing his own version of piousness. But when he is tempted by the Monsignor’s request to deliver charitable funds to the bank, Alex pockets the money and flees to the home of Minnie, whom he worships and who he has learned is now pregnant by Sam Patch, a good man, but too rough in Alex’s eyes. He attempts to talk Minnie into using the money for an abortion, and it is only her refusal that sends him back to the seminary to return the money. “Do you remember if the phone rang in the booth along the highway that night?” (p. 87) asks MacIlvoy, a fellow seminarian who had gotten wind of the theft and tried to detour Alex from this path. But of course Alex had ignored the rings, as he would ignore many warnings in his tragic life.

Caught red-handed and forced to return as a prodigal son-that-never-was to his uncle’s house, Alex again flees to yet another refuge, this time to the safe moral relativism of academia, where he becomes an expert at reducing meaning to ethical dust. However, he finds himself unable to navigate the easy duplicity in which his peers are fluent, and takes an isolated and idealistic stand which causes him to be drummed out of the facultyas a figure of ridicule. A bitter and alienated Alex once again returns defeated to a shack on his uncle’s property, spending his days in the family scrapyard forging dreadful humanoid creatures out of junked metal, a modern-day Prometheus. One day he is asked by MacIlvoy, now the local priest, to create a Virgin for the church grotto. Some part of him still influenced by divinity guides his hand to create a beautiful Madonna, her face inspired by a lovely young girl he spots one day in the market. Two days later he finds out that the girl is Amy Patch, the child he urged his childhood sweetheart to abort fifteen years earlier. He will also find out that it is once again the fate of this innocent girl, at his own hands, that will determine whether he will ever experience the grace he so dearly craves.

Trudging the lost highway while mulling over his grievances as usual, Alex runs into Burton Tucker, whose own mind and body have been stunted by the brutality of his birth mother. The generally pliant Burton runs the local garage, offering lotto tickets as a bonus for oil changes. He is on his way to deliver some good news: Jim Chapman is a winner, to the tune of $13 million. Alex realizes that he could have been the one to bring Jim’s truck to Burton and receive the winning ticket, but he had refused because of the grudge he held against Jim. Once again, Alex has been thwarted by an ironic twist of fate and it is too much to bear. He decides at that moment that his uncle must never see the money, and begins a treacherous intrigue, which he justifies through the tortured ethical logic with which he has become so skilled. He unwittingly aligns himself with a very dangerous partner, Leo Bourque, the childhood bully who made his schooldays such hell, and whose days of playing cat-and-mouse with the weak Alex are not over. Their twinned descent will become deadly, marked by murder both actual and intended.

How far would any of us go to avenge a terrible wrong done to us at birth? To whom shall we assign blame? And can we achieve redemption, no matter how grievous our sins? David Adams Richards’ The Lost Highway is a taut psychological thriller that goes far beyond the genre into the worlds of Leo Tolstoy, and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as well as classical Greek mythology, testing the very limits of humankind’s all too tenuous grasp on morality.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Prize-winning Canadian author Richards (The Friends of Meager Fortune) spins a sad, thoughtful tale around Alex Chapman, a community-college ethics teacher living in a small Canadian town of English- and French-speaking whites and Micmac Indians. Alex's lifelong feud with his tyrannical great-uncle James drives him to desperation. At the opening of the novel, James has lost his paving business. He asks Alex to take his truck in to have the oil changed; Alex refuses. James vows that Alex won't inherit, and Alex is furious, though in fact it is he who contrived to make his uncle lose his biggest contract. When the mechanic, a simple man named Burton, gives James a lottery ticket worth thirteen million dollars, Alex decides to steal it. He blames his uncle for an old humiliation that caused him to refuse to admit his feelings for Minnie, the soft-spoken girl who loved him. The novel draws on a number of different perspectives including Burton, Minnie's daughter, Amy, and Leo Bourque, the schoolmate who bullied Alex when he was a child. Richards goes to unnecessary lengths to explain his characters' motivations, and this slows the narrative pace considerably. Still, the novel presents complicated ethical dilemmas and offers sharp insights into complex emotional motives.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.



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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Divided Conscience! Jan. 16 2009
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
In "Lost Highway", the Acadian writer, David Adams Richards, has written a captivating story about interfamilial strife in the Mirachimi region of New Brunswick. There seems to be an uncanny parallel between this novel and Thomas Hardy's Wessex novels such as "Tess of the D'Ubervilles" and "Jude the Obscure", where the main characters are locked in a never-ending struggle with their consciences and their fellow beings. Richards' tale, as stated in other reviews, can be reduced to a basic plotline where Alex Chapman, an orphan, has gone to live with a cruel great-uncle who treats him in a demeaning and heartless fashion. By the time Alex reaches manhood, he is one very confused and maligned character, torn between wanting to do good by living an ethical life and fighting the demons of his past: sexual impotence, poor self-image, and the need for revenge. The hatred that Alex bears towards his relative, James Chapman, becomes the driving force of his life and works it out in a sinister plot to do him out of a large lottery winning. Even with all his formal religious training as a priest, Alex will still succumb to the forces of evil because he has conveniently learned to use it as a means of making things supposedly better in his life, and his friends and relatives know it. His newly acquired grasp of Aristotelian morals is no match for the wiliness and greed of the malevolent Leo. Besides presenting some interesting moral dilemmas in this novel, Richards provides a very colorful description of Arcadian culture that portrays the region as somewhat rustic, impoverished, backward, and quite isolated from the normal world of circumstantial ethics. But that innocence will change very quickly as the sophisticate Alex hatches his artful plans. "Lost Highway" is a story that certainly has as much to say about the complexities of culture as it does about he distortions of human behaviour under the worst of circumstances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lost in the Lost Highway Nov. 21 2008
A decent mystery thriller by David Adams Richards. If you've watched the film "A Simple Plan" with Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, the plot for "The Lost Highway" is strikingly similar. Instead of a bag full or cash though, it's a $13 million lotto ticket.

The best part of the book is the character development. The protagonist is a fellow by the name of Alex Chapman. Richards does a great job showing us the dichotomous nature of Alex. He is an ethics professor who has a fetish for Stalin. He is kicked out of the Seminary because he steals. He is supposed to be the intellectual but is outsmarted by his loser friend Leo Bourque. The auxiliary characters in Minnie, Amy, Burton, James, and Markus Paul are all interesting and add a lot to the development of the story.

I think the plot starts out well, but gets strung out in the last third of the book when Markus is chasing down the mystery. Richards gets bogged down in the logistics of explaining who goes where and who does what and his characters flatline in their drama and development. I would've preferred if Richards simply cut out the twists and turns and got straight to the point and finished the book with more depth.

Overall, I think the book is a decent mystery thriller. It's not a gem, but certainly a good read for an afternoon or two.
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1.0 out of 5 stars A ham-fisted, long-winded stinker March 27 2014
By nv
I count DAR's Mercy Among the Children as one of my top reads ever, so it's with grief I report just how excruciatingly heavy-handed and boring this novel is. While I appreciate the careful development of character, the meandering plot and page-by-page obsessing by Alex Chapman over his goodness versus every damn evil in the world was just TOO. MUCH. You might have to take a Xanax to get through this steaming heap.

Anyway, not good. Skip it. Do something worthwhile with your time, like reading Mercy Among the Children. Or playing the lotto.
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