Hymn California: By Adam Gnade, 181 pgs. By Kurt

I just started grad school a few weeks ago. They sometimes assign up to three books to read in one week (which is impossible, but study habits in grad school are another story). So I want to make it clear that I actually made time for this book. It wasn’t like, “Oh man, another book to read?!” No, I actually would take a break from my other books to read this because I enjoyed it that much.

Adam has been around for a while both as a musician and writer. Hymn California is described as an autobiographical novel and—from what I can gather—much of this happened to Adam in the past few years, but he also might have embellished a bit (à la James Frey), so he made sure all should know it’s a novel. This monograph primarily consists of him driving back and forth across the country with friends and everything they feel, see, and do. To miss the connections to On the Road would be pretty hard. The characters here are trying to learn who they are and where they’re going. But mostly they’re floating along, going nowhere, very reminiscent of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X but in a car. There are all sorts of vignettes about growing up, memories of childhood, events from recent U.S. history, and so on. There are also some hilarious moments, such as the Mexican father who scares his kid on the subway in NYC by pretending to be Chucky from the film series of the same name.

In the midst of a story told by one friend about a cat, another friend pipes in, “What?! This isn’t the cat story I know! I thought this was the story where Karl hid in the bushes and jumped out and punched a cat?” It’s a stream of lines like that which provide the book with unforeseen hilarity or poignancy, along with the description of life in Portland (a city which I miss), that kept me intrigued. (Although, where he and his friends came up with the money to drive across the country and buy all the things they did left me puzzled.) The similarity to so many authors I enjoy and the vague feeling of familiarity with the characters is what kept me interested enough to finish what I started, which is more than I can say for some of the books I’ve been assigned to read for grad school. –Kurt Morris (Dutchmoney Books, 239 Harris Ave., Providence, RI02903)