Review: The Patron Saint of Used Cars and Second Chances by Mark Millhone

patronsaintTitle: 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!

 

12 Comments

  • At 2009.08.05 05:54, vivienne said:

    Difficult – children! That is an understatement. Perhaps I feel this week because I had twins. I love my girls to bits, but it is hard work. Free time goes out the window for a while, as you have to cope with extra work loads. If you are organised and don’t require sleep, then your life will be easy, but if you are like the rest of us, then enjoy your freedom now. Kids are the best kept secret!

    • At 2009.08.05 06:47, bermudaonion said:

      Since I love memoirs, I think the book sounds interesting. To be honest, it’s been so long since our son was born, I don’t really remember, but I think it’s about what we expected.

      • At 2009.08.05 09:51, lisamm said:

        Difficult!! It was a huge adjustment. I don’t have twins like vivienne but mine are only 13 months apart- #1 wasn’t even walking yet by the time #2 was born. Husband was traveling all the time so I was home alone a lot with the babies. I’d gone from being a high-powered, suit-wearing executive recruiter to a lonely, isolated stay at home mom with spit up on my t shirt. I don’t think I slept more than 3 hours at a time for the first two or three years. It was so physically demanding having them so close together and I had no support system at all. All my friends were from my former life- I had no mommy friends- and my family lived far away. My husband would come home from a business trip and want to be romantic or go out and all I’d want to do was leave the house (alone) or sleep. We weren’t communicating at all and I was very resentful of him for not recognizing that I needed help. It sounds like hell, doesn’t it? I love my kids and wanted them desperately and wouldn’t change it but I wish I’d been better about asking for help.

        I got off on a tangent there but I just stopped by to thank you for the thoughtful review!!

        • At 2009.08.05 10:47, trish said:

          The more reviews I read of this book the more I’m interested in it. I don’t think enough people think about how/why relationships change, and more importantly, how they can be changed for the better.

          My friends are starting to have kids, so I’m watching as the dynamics change. I’m sure it’s hard for most women, no matter their support system, because no matter how many friends you have, none of them are going to be there at night when the baby is waking up every few hours to be fed. 🙂

          • At 2009.08.05 11:09, Debbie's World of Books said:

            Definitely! I knew it would be hard but I didn’t realize just hard it would be. My husband is also very short tempered so a lot of dealing with our daughter is left up to me. Dealing with full time working, middle of the night wake ups, chasing after her after work, cooking, cleaning, etc. It’s been a rough trip but so worth it!

            • At 2009.08.05 11:10, Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said:

              Much harder! The baby was just as I imagined, but what I didn’t realise was how you have to make a new set of friends. I was the first of my friends to have a baby, so they all worked during the day. In the evening I was too tired to go out and I knew noone around during the day. It is so hard to make a new social network while trying to look after a new baby.

              • At 2009.08.05 11:16, Michelle said:

                Oh, it was so much more difficult than I’d imagined! WIth my husband working longer hours so we could afford the added expense, there was the isolation to deal with, the monotony of newborn babies, the sleep deprivation.

                • At 2009.08.05 11:41, Michelle said:

                  Parts of it is just as you thought it might be; the love part but the work part of having a child, physically taking care of it is much more difficult than anyone can explain. Sleep-deprived you float through a messy life.

                  • At 2009.08.05 14:34, Amy Reads Good Books said:

                    Great review. . .I’ll be looking for this one. For me, it was pretty difficult. I’m a stepmom, so that means I got one of those “instant families.” For the most part, it’s great fun. However, there are a few trying days!

                    • At 2009.08.15 19:07, Jenners said:

                      I like memoirs in this style so I might check this out. And isn’t it fun when you read something set where you know?

                      • At 2009.08.25 16:55, Jane said:

                        Wow, my third comment in a row on your blog; you’re asking good questions. The adjustments we made after having children were exponentially greater than I had ever imagined, mainly because our oldest daughter turned out to be developmentally disabled. Moving from Europe to the US was just one of them! Not all the adjustments were bad; my husband would never have become a responsible working adult without a wife & kids to support. For me, it has meant staying at home when I wanted a career, but whether that’s bad or good… I’d have to go back and live my life without the kids to find out.

                        How to deal with it? One day at a time.

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