Review: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances by Mark Millhone
Title: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances
Author: Mark Millhone
Genre/Pages: Nonfiction, Memoir (Humor, Relationships)/192
Publication: Rodale Books; July 7, 2009
Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS
Nat’s ‘In a Nutshell’: One man’s nine month journey to hell and back with a layover in Dallas where he picks up a honey of a used car hoping it will have the power to ferry him back (literally and metaphorically) to his wife, children, and the way things used to be.
To say that things aren’t going well for Mark Millhone and his family would be an understatement. In the span of time equivalent to a baby’s gestation, Millhone fields tragedy after trauma, from his mother’s death, father’s diagnosis with cancer, infant son’s near-death after birth, and older son’s run-in with the family dog’s fangs.
As his world and marriage crumble around him, Millhone takes to his computer, stalking eBay Motors for a car. His salvation comes in the form of a 1994 BMW 7 series–the panacea to all that ails him. The symbolism is clear–the car is much more than just four wheels and seat–it’s redemption with leather upholstery. Under the pretext of asking for help, Millhone orchestrates some father-son bonding by enlisting his father to ride shotgun on the drive home from the Lone Star State (where the Beemer is) to the Big Apple (where Millhone lives).
In the interim, Mark packs up his wife and sons and trundles them off to his in-laws’ house in upstate New York. He mentions that in better times, he and his wife owned and renovated a farmhouse in Margaretville. My great-grandfather owns a piece of prime real estate in the Margaretville Cemetery and has been in residence there since 1954. Before that, he owned a dairy farm in Halcottsville, where my dad summered as a boy. (It was a kick to read about these towns–especially since I spent part of my summer vacation there last month!)
Millhone and his father make the epic drive, and as readers we ride along, getting filled in on the back story. He doesn’t shy away from the telling–even when it would be less painful or easier to edit events or conversations. He confronts his failures and examines his self-doubt. He openly discusses the difficult relationship he had with his mother and the challenge that parenthood really is.
It was refreshing to read such an honest account of how parenting and marriage can, despite best efforts and intentions, go bad. No one sets out to be a bad spouse or parent, but both roles are jobs that require Herculean dedication and responsibility. Millhone’s memoir examines marriage, family relationships, and being a father with humor and authenticity that comes from experience and perseverance.
This memoir acted as springboard in my house for some interesting discussions about marriage and family. Children dramatically impact the landscape of a marriage and the husband-wife dynamic shifts. If you have children, did you find the adjustment to be more or less difficult than you anticipated? Do you have any tips for dealing with this issue?
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this memoir–nonfiction is one of my favorite genres!