2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Ambitious, Engaging, Envelope-Pushing, 15 May 2013
Say this for Fred Schӓfer: he has courage. In THE 92-YEAR-OLD LADY WHO MADE ME STEAL A DEAD MAN'S CAR, Schӓfer has penned one of the most ambitious novels I've ever read. The title alone implies this is going to be a complex book, and it doesn't even scratch the surface of the novel's scope.
Written entirely in first person from the main character's perspective, it opens with the titular little, old lady nearly being run down by a car when she tries to cross the street. The narrator saves her, only to watch as the driver of the car gets out to shout at her and is killed by a truck. She convinces the narrator to get them out of there by stealing the dead man's vehicle and then to move in with her in her hi-rise New York apartment.
And things haven't even gotten weird yet. It seems the little old lady's library has come alive. Literary characters are leaving their books and coming to her, complaining about how they ended and asking to have them rewritten. Because the narrator is an author, she hopes he can help them.
Schӓfer's ambition knows no bounds. He conjures up legendary characters like Jay Gatsby and Jesus Christ, modern characters like Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and Michael Connelly's Mickey Haller from THE LINCOLN LAWYER, as well as more obscure characters like Pursewarden from Lawrence Durrell's THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET. They all have some change they'd like made to their fates or their stories.
In this context, Schӓfer really pushes the envelope of modern literature. Existential philosophy, the meaning of God, and the rights of individuals to determine their own fate are woven throughout the surtext of the novel. Not to mention fascinating forays into the differences between eBooks and print editions.
It's hard to say if Schӓfer pulls it off. The ending has a nice twist that causes the book to take a slight turn without spoiling the credulity of the rest of it, but the book is so grandly weird, so gargantuan in scope, it's not only difficult to describe, it's not quite obvious what the point was.
And yet, it doesn't really seem to matter. Schӓfer has a light, airy voice that is very readable, very enjoyable, and incredibly funny. The subtitle is "A Thrilling and Seriously Funny Novel," and it's an apt description. Schӓfer writes charming, witty prose that makes the reader want to keep turning pages. He's an author who makes reading fun.
The book has two flaws. First was a preponderance of typos. This is a sad attribute of many independently published novels, and it's too bad such an otherwise finely written piece suffered from it.
Second, the novel is set largely in Manhattan, and the narrator is a native New Yorker. But there were a lot of "Britishisms" in the text. Things like referring to fuel as "petrol" instead of "gas" and using the word, "fortnight," which Americans don't. These little dialectical inconsistencies kicked me out of the text whenever they occurred.
But THE 92-YEAR-OLD LADY WHO MADE ME STEAL A DEAD MAN'S CAR is a strong, ambitious, entertaining novel despite these little problems. It's an excellent read and well worth the time of anyone who enjoys witty prose and books that push the envelope of modern fiction.