Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
At 35, car mechanic Boyd Matthis is feeling a bit disillusioned if practical about the way his life panned out. He makes just enough to pay his bills and get by. But what of the dreams he once had? On his wall is a faded map of the country with pins pushed into locations he always wanted to visit. A 60’s muscle car, another dream, would be the ideal ride that takes him out on the trip of a lifetime…all out of reach of Boyd’s finances. Until a miracle happens. Boyd finds his dream car for sale at a price he can afford after 15 years of saving and his life changes course.
One cross country flight later and Boyd has the keys to his new ’69 Roadrunner in hand and the pedal to the metal. He’s got a plan and a time table to meet before he has to be back at his job. It’s all working out for once. Until Las Vegas when Boyd runs into Oliver Martin, 24, a young man in trouble trying to return home to Maryland. Boyd just can’t turn his back on someone in such obvious pain and need of assistance. Now its two for the road with time to get to know each other and for affection if not more to settle as they ride east. But Oliver’s troubles aren’t over yet as the shadow of Oliver’s past is following behind them. What happens when the dreams of one man has the potential to change both mens future forever?
A. F. Henley’s marvelous Road Trip brought up so many emotions and memories for me. Boyd’s dream car, what is now referred to as a historic vehicle was a car of my youth, along with 8 tracks, wide tires, and call of the road trip and the idea that your dreams could be realized somewhere along the way of that smooth, wide asphalt. It was also a known “next stage” of adolescence. From a boy and a dog, to a boy and his car, although in my case it was girl and a dog, to girl, dog, and a car. It didn’t seem to matter that was a Ford Mustang ’65 or in this case a ’69 Plymouth Roadrunner, black on black. To be the ruler of the road and master of your dreams, your ride needed to be powerful too.
Henley’s Boyd is a weary, good man who has about given up on his dreams. Boyd has diligently saved for 15 years (at a small salary as a mechanic) to own his own holy grail of cars only to see life with all its mishaps continually reduce the4 savings he put aside to purchase his dream car. A faded old USA map full of push pins outline a journey to places Boyd has thought about since childhood. Those dreams combined with the 69 Roadrunner encapsulated the hopes and future Boyd once thought he could achieve but are fast slipping away. I loved that Henley’s Boyd feels so familiar and real. He’s matter of fact about his appearance, good points and bad. His view of his life is unobscured by filters and he is accepting that his status, as a hardworking gay man of “singular” status might be permanent. Bars and hookups for Boyd as a thing of his past. And we get that because Henley’s portrait of a decent, hardworking man is so vivid and believable that Boyd quickly works his way into our hearts.
And then Boyd’s dreams come true and the feeling in these words are almost heartrending in their quiet joy.
…It was so much more than just a car, or just a road trip… It was that thing he’d been planning for, that one thing, and it was finally happening. It didn’t matter that he still rented a falling-down shack while all his buddies were buying houses. It didn’t matter that he didn’t own his own garage or that he had to scrape by on sixteen bucks an hour. He was getting his car. He was fulfilling a dream.
It was that flurry of emotion that gave Boyd the stamina to ignore the oversized man sitting to his left on the plane who snored most of the way there. It was the same rush that stopped him from losing his mind on the irritating woman to his right who kept bumping his arm with her laptop. He’d even been able to turn a blind eye when the brat in front of him kept popping over the seat to stick out his tongue.
When he arrived at the airport, Boyd waited with a patience even he’d been surprised he could manage for the cab that would take him from the airport in San Francisco out to West Sacramento. He didn’t get irate when they got stuck in traffic on the bridge, even though bridges freaked him the hell out— especially ones that seemed as long as small countries were wide. None of it mattered.
None of the tiny issues were going to get in the way of his adventure. He could have charmed demons if he’d needed to. Nothing in life had ever felt so gratifying as the moment when he finally got to stand beside that sweet little machine and call it his; when he got to hold the keys with the garish, dangling eight-ball and claim them. She was perfect.
There we are, in the moment as Boyd stands beside his dream realized, and its feels as powerful and true as if we were Boyd himself. And it gets better as Boyd and Roadrunner hit the highway, heading for adventure and all those red pin destinations he has dreamed about his entire life.
Of course, Boyd’s intricately laid out plan hits a snag in Las Vegas (perfect place where many dreams go sideways). There Boyd finds and we meet the second main character to this story, Oliver Martin. Oliver is a scared, desperate 24 year old who followed his dream to Las Vegas only to see it crumble and try to destroy him. Now he’s at a dead end at his journey with no hope in sight. Until Boyd intervenes. Oliver is another entirely believable personage. Guarded, wounded, and clearly in need of help he won’t ask for, its a joy for the reader to see his character change and deepen as the men head east towards their respective homes in Syracuse, NY (Boyd’s) and Towson, MD (Oliver’s). Sometimes such a difference in ages between the characters doesn’t work but it does here. Oliver gives Boyd a fresh perspective on his vision of the trips and places they see plus Boyd gives Oliver a safe, firm foundation that allows Oliver to start to heal. Their relationship starts off shaky yet slowly becomes so much more. I loved that too.
And the third main character? Well, the ’69 Plymouth Roadrunner of course, black on black. From the moment Boyd grasps that key in hand, that car roars to life, becoming as important to their relationship and story as they are.
…It wasn’t just the way the sun glinted off the chrome or the brilliance of the car’s finish; it was the entire aura of the automobile that caught everyone’s attention. It drew people by the dozens, be it at the pier, the beach, or even the Denny’s that Boyd ate breakfast at. The men asked questions they hoped made them sound smart, and the women came to flirt as if the car was some kind of bizarre extension of his cock.
..he was sure that he could make up the time in Vegas. He donned shades against the early evening sun, popped in a cartridge of Del Shannon, turned up the volume, opened both windows wide, and drove the car hard. The engine thrummed and the speakers cooed, both working in time to drown out Boyd’s voice while he tried to hit notes he should not have.
A braided steering wheel, a box full of 8-track cassettes and the open road…and A.F. Henley puts us in the seat next to Boyd where we feel the softness of leather, shield our eyes from blinding light from the chrome and sit back, lulled by the hum of a powerful car doing what it was manufactured to do…complete someone’s dream. I could have stayed on the road with all three for pages and pages more than their journey ended.
But life and reality catches up with both in Maryland and what followed felt a little rushed and without foundation. I felt this section of the plot needed a little more fleshing out, whether in background or characters, to bring it up to the wonderful narrative that comes before. But it does supply a necessary element of drama and helps bring the story to a totally satisfactory conclusion. I loved this story and all the characters, car included.
I highly recommend that readers take this journey with Boyd and Oliver. Pick up Road Trip and remember what is feels like to have your dreams come alive and the whole world ready to explore. I leave you with the images of a car made to fly down our superhighways with the music blaring and you singing at the top of your lungs.
Cover artist Natasha Snow did a great job with incorporating important elements in a design that feels timeless.
Published February 11th 2015 by Less Than Three Press
original titleRoad Trip