By Jim Baugh 2\15\13
This is a difficult book for me to review, because there is no way I could ever criticize how a person deals with grief due to the tragic loss of life. In this case Neil Peart suffered a huge loss with the death of both his daughter and his wife- turning his life upside down in a matter of seconds. There was a quote in the book, “The only reason I am not dead is because I am alive”. This pretty well speaks as to Pearts feelings at the time.
Several things that need to be said up front. This is a good book and one that should be read for many reasons. I am not going to get into the storyline details of the book because Ghost Rider has a lot of truly precious gems in it and I don’t want to spoil the read for anyone. Even for most of us who have never suffered the grief that Peart has, there is a lot of solid lessons to be taken away from this book. Many valuable things that also made some impact on my life. Even a simple thing like buying books and sending them to friends or loved ones. After I read about how regularly Peart did this, I got on line and bought a book and sent it to my son. The title? Ghost Rider. True story. I really did that.
I am no way going to criticize a story such as Peart’s, how he dealt with his grief is something that only Peart can truly critique and review. What I will do is offer observations about the general story and writing that will not spoil the read. This is of course a five star story all the way, however due to some of the things mentioned below, I gave it a 3.5 mostly due to my opinion on direction, and editing. Make no mistake, this is a book you do want to read.
Here we go!
Usually in two pages I can tell if I am going to like a book or not. I can pick up on an author’s abilities pretty darn quick, and tell if it is a read I am going to be able to stick out. Peart had me at page one. That was it. This “little baby sole” has a great talent for NOT overdoing it. A comfortable writing style that is not pretentious and very clear. This is the best talent a writer can have. None of his words breathed ego to me, and this is a man probably worth millions who is also maybe the most popular and famous rock drummer in the world. Bottom line, Peart writes in a clear, concise, with no mumbo jumbo mannor.
The story and the unreal endurance of a grief stricken man.
Basically as most of you know, this story is about a long journey, “The Healing Road” from Quebec Canada, to Alaska, down the Pacific North West, down to Mexico and even Belize, all on a motorcycle. The first 200 pages dealt with Pearts travels and what he encounters along the way. This was a FANTASTIC read! I could not get enough. BIG page turner. Simply put, everything about it I liked and so will you. What amazed me was that he actually did this. I mean, the cold, rain, snow, ice, dirt roads, etc, etc for thousands of miles, all on a two wheeler. All I can say is…… more power to him, and I was very impressed with his endurance and capabilities on a bike. It truly was amazing. Peart gets five stars just for attempting this journey.
Not to give too much away, his journey led him to many places he toured with Rush as a performer. The interesting thing was how his perspective about people and places changed based on pre or post grief. Things that did not bother him before, bothered him now. Especially tourists! Funny but true. It is important to keep in mind as a reader that his view points are coming from a person trying to find a life again. Some of the things he says may at first seem insulting to some, but remember he was struggling to figure out a way to just live. Find a way. A life. Peart’s way was by constant movement, never stay idle or the memories of lost loved ones would surface hard and be too overwhelming.
Faith, the kind that does not exist in Pearts world.
To be clear, I am not an evangelist, Minister, guidance counseler, or Boy Scout leader. I am a writer, television producer and chef. But I am also a person of strong faith. A Christian, who tries to be a better one but finds being human gets in the way more than I would like! There were MANY MANY times in the book I just felt like screaming, “HEY MAN, WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO HAVE A LITTLE FAITH DUDE!!!!!!!” I mean really, however if Peart had been a person of Christian faith, he would of never made the motorcycle trip in the first place. Still, in my opinion, Christianity is the healing road.
There were places in the book where faith did knock on his door, like when he bumped into the Christian Bikers who invited him to join them in a meal, but Peart was no way going for that. I read about his “moment” in the Catholic Church, remembering how is daughter sort of fell in love with the church and what that meant to him. I thought maybe Peart may begin to ponder and look beyond his motorcycle for his healing road, but that did not happen. Don’t get me wrong, freedom of religion and beliefs is fine with me and that is what life is all about. I just felt SO bad for Peart in his grief- stricken state that I wished him more peace and a blessing that did not involve gasoline.
There may not be a God, but there is a Brutus.
A good portion of Ghost Rider is based on letters to Pearts best friend Brutus. Brutus was going to travel a lot with Peart during this journey, but landed in jail due to repeated drug trafficking. There were so many letters to him I began to wonder if this was real, or just a writing exorcize. Does he really exist??? Peart made Brutus a part of his story through the letters he wrote while on the road. This was fine, I thought it was a good writing technique for the book, but overdone. I began to dread seeing ANOTHER letter to Brutus. The read would have been more enjoyable had there been less Brutus letters and replaced with narrative.
How does a five star story, a page turner….. get a 3.5 rating?
Here is the deal, I loved this story and Peart’s writing style. However, the book had problems that a good editor would have fixed. There were WAY too many letters in the book. Letters it seems to everyone. I can understand that on the Healing Road, but not everyone had to be in the book. The problem with so many letters, it caused redundancy. Same thing said over and over, repetitive, and this really bothered me after a while.
Being a very good lyricist, does not necessarily make a great novelist. Peart’s writing style is awesome, but he really suffers in areas of transition and balance in writing. The ending almost didn’t make sense because he offered little to no background or build up and sparse description. I thought his recovery would have been one of the most interesting areas of the book. That wasen’t the case, it was glanced more like an afterthought in the last chapter.
It was also very frustrating when it came time to finally get off the motorcycle after months, and visit your closest friends or family like Alex, etc. His passages about these meetings was rather short and not very detailed. His main point was that he was sad after he left them, feeling a void. This I could understand. But MAN!!! After and during this incredible journey, you would think you could write an entire chapter about meeting with your band mates. I just feel there was a lot of potential interesting material there, that Peart chose to ignore. His meetings on the road to me as a reader, was going to be a much anticipated release, but ended up always a let down. There should have been more there to help balance and transition in the story line.
These are writing skills that are crucial in a book. But then again, this was not an ordinary book, it was a journey down a healing road that did eventually work for Peart. So what can I say? Success is success.
Peart’s very good side to story editing and balance.
For me, Peart did a GREAT job by not turning this into a book about being a famous rock and roll musician, or about being rich. There was just enough mention of Rush to tell the story and that was it. The book’s strong suit about is the travel log aspect of it. Peart really shines here. I was intrigued in every place he stopped and enjoyed all the interesting meals and locations. I also liked his take on the different hotels and places he stayed. This kept the story line fresh and moving. Very enjoyable.
I liked this five star story, and certainly wish Peart never had the reason to write this in the first place. Tragic is the word that best describes losing both your daughter and your wife all in the same year. To Pearts writing credit, the story line does not over dwell on sadness. There are moments of tears, but the story moves along fast enough that you don’t feel sad reading. I did not find it a depressing read, but rather a very enjoyable one. This is another plus in Peart’s corner as a writer. Tuff balance here to do that with this story line, but he made it work.
For sure, buy this book. If you remember that Peart’s perspective is from the “Healing Road” then you will not find some of the things in the book offensive. I’m not a politically correct sensitive type, so I found his comments about the different places he went to and the people he met funny. I related well since my taste in humor is a bit on the sarcastic side.
Is an American, I did not find anything Peart said about Americans offensive. Here is a tip I will give any of you Rush Fans.
If you happen to see Neil Peart out touring somewhere and you happen to be 300 pounds and wearing tight jeans buckled up just under a hugh bulging belly. Don’t ask Neil for an autograph. You probably won’t get it.
Thanks for a good read Neil!
Jim Baugh Outdoors TV
Author of “HOOKED”