Saturday, April 22, 2006

Coming up Flat on a Cross-Country Ride

38. Riding with the Blue Moth, Bill Hancock. Adventure, 4-21, pp. 246

Perhaps I was disappointed in Bill Hancock’s Riding with the Blue Moth because I expected too much.

The book was recommended by a friend and I’m certain I know why he thought I should read it. In search of solace after the unexpected death of his son in a plane crash in 2001, Hancock sets off on a 36-day, 2,746-mile bicycle ride from the Pacific to the Atlantic, California to Georgia. Riding the Blue Moth tells that story.

My friend and I have put in a few miles together on the bicycle. Although he’s a far more serious cyclist than I and just the sort to come up with a scheme to ride coast to coast. For me, it’s one of those things that 's really cool to think about, but which I will never do. My friend also knew that 2006 was a year of loss, bringing both the death of my mother, after a grueling five-year battle with cancer, and the unexpected death of a beloved Corgi.

Little wonder then that I approached Riding with the Blue Moth with the hope that I might assuage my pain by vicariously sharing in Hancock’s experiences as he rides across America.

But that didn’t happen. Hancock tries too hard. I won’t describe his observations as banal, that’s too harsh. He’s an earnest and well-intentioned man, which makes for a great husband, father and employee, but not a great writer. His observations are of the dime-store variety. There’s nothing deep or unexpected here, no hidden truths revealed.

As a primer on coping with grief, Hancock’s book cannot approach the depth—lyrically, emotionally or intellectually—of Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. As an adventure tale it fails to tap into either the humor of Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods or the sense of a genuine trial as expressed in Chris Duff’s On Celtic Tides or The Water in Between by Kevin Patterson.

I’ve no doubt Riding with the Blue Moth will resonate, on some level, with many readers. I just wasn’t one of them. I do, however, wish Mr. Hancock and his wife, Nicki, all the best and it is my heartfelt desire that while time may have eased the pain of their son’s death, it has done nothing to lessen their memory of him.

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