A Study of Whales and Cigarettes That Became a Novel
Ecphora Press, 9780997435009, 332pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2016
"AutoFlick: A Study of Whales and Cigarettes That Became a Novel," is a contemporary novel centered on the first-person narrative of a 16-year young man trying to come of age in the summer of 1968. And then trying again in the autumn of 2002.
Winner of 2017 Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best First Book (Fiction)
Isaac Yardley did not know what he was getting into when he and his father started chasing after people who threw cigarettes from cars. He did not know this fanciful "research" project would lead to his transformation from over-ripe Boy Scout to entry-level hippie. Along the way, he is gassed at an anti-poverty demonstration in Washington, DC, caught skinny-dipping, befriended by an eccentric entrepreneur, inspired by the history of the Delaware Canal, stumbles into an unwitting windfall at a race track, and is surprised how effortlessly his parents help a kid tripping on LSD at the New York City showing of "Magical Mystery Tour."
But he might have expected something. His father was born a Quaker, became an atheist, joined the Dick Mobius society of Herman Melville enthusiasts, married a beauty-pageant contestant and settled into a career as a small town newspaper reporter. He was also too good a swimmer for his own good.
The story shifts to September 2002. Isaac has become a father, driving his own son to various locations in Maryland to film background video for a high-school musical that tells Ishmael's story after the Pequod sinks at the end of "Moby Dick." He impulsively resumes the cigarette-flicking research that he and his father started. Against the background of the 2002 Beltway sniper and the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, he reflects on the shock of losing his father and the compromises he made in the aftermath. He confesses to his wife that he has been faking it in church. He almost has an affair. He finally puts together a mystery that had obsessed his father. And he figures out what to do with the rest of his life.
The story features numerous historical anecdotes and descriptions of the 60-odd vehicles from which cigarettes are observed being flicked to the road.