The Perfect Vehicle by Melissa Holbrook Pierson. Published by Granta Publications, 2/3 Hanover Yard, London. N1 8BE. 1998. ISBN:1-86207-119-5
This is a first time foray in to the world of Travel Writing for the forty-something American proof reader and former Art History graduate Melissa Holbrook Pierson. Focusing in and around the world of the motorcycle this part travelogue, part voyage of self-discovery could, on the face of it be said to have been conceived and executed pretty much along the lines of Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. 1 However there are a number of subtle differences in style and approach, which I believe distances this book somewhat from Mr. Pirsig’s seminal work. Whilst Zen catalogues one man’s personal odyssey both literally and philosophically, Miss Pierson’s journey not only encompasses those liberally sampled intellectual ingredients she also proffers a sprinkling of insights and narratives into the history and development of the motorcycle itself and perhaps more importantly just what it is that distinguishes a motorcycle from the many other forms of transport that exist. Indeed what is unique about Miss Pierson is that she articulates, for the first time perhaps, just what it is that any true, dyed-in-the-wool biker feels about his or her chosen steed. However, a word of caution has to be sounded at this juncture; this work is not addressed solely for the appetites of the motorcycling fraternity. There are in fact no obvious preconditions or expectations required of one in order to pick up this book and become instantly transfixed. Located firmly within the ambit of semi-autobiography and travelogue, one senses that a certain catharsis was experienced by the author as she revisited events and experiences from the latter part of her life which have helped her to evaluate both herself and the values she has surrounded herself with. As one would expect, by her committing a substantial part of the intimate workings of her mind and soul over into the medium of the written word, it somehow beguilingly leaves her strangely vulnerable and exposed. Indeed it is by virtue of this frank exposure of her innermost workings that engenders in the reader a powerful sense of empathy with her and the disarming candour that resonates through her story remains with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
That, I would venture to suggest, is the hallmark of an eminently capable writer, one moreover who is truly at one with the emotive power of her art. As regards the composition of her intended audience, well if, as you leisurely wend your enraptured and thoroughly captivated way through the chapters of this intriguing travelogue you happen to be a motorcyclist then so much the better; certain aspects of this book will instantly appeal to your particular biking predilections. If you happen to be a woman, then similarly, there are other particular aspects that will strike a chord with you too. But more than these blatantly flagrant appeals to specific persuasions, this book is in reality really much more inclusive than that. It appeals to all tastes, to either gender, in fact to anyone who possesses so much as a single sensitive bone in their body who has pondered on the great meaning of life or who has suddenly felt the urge to jump on a train, a boat, a plane or indeed a great big motorcycle and ride off into the sunset just for the sheer hell of it.
Being a life-long motorcyclist myself, I find my impartial objectivity for Miss Pierson’s narrative sorely tested, but as a metaphor for both literal and spiritual freedom, I have always maintained that the motorcycle cannot be bettered. Substitute the motorcycle for one’s chosen mode of escapism and one will truly understand; one will then become as enlightened as even the most intuitively receptive Buddhist. Talking of which, it is no wonder that Robert Pirsig chose Zen in his...
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