Shine on Me
Shine on Me
The rules are simple enough. "Here’s the deal: Whoever keeps his hands longest on one of the dealer’s brand new pickup trucks owns it and gets to drive it away." An actual contest hosted by an auto dealership in Texas is the prompt for this fictional exploration, which seeks to probe the depths and shallows of the American soul.
To the players vying for this shiny new prize, competition revs up as the hours wear on, positions harden, sightlines narrow, and sleep-deprivation intensifies. At the center is the reporter Trew Reade, struggling to make sense of the event and his own role in it. Early on, he muses that "surface and substance were rarely the same; transparency could be the most cunning of masks." So, too, is the author’s transparent prose. Reviewers have sometimes found kinship in Mojtabai’s vision with that of Marilynne Robinson and Flannery O’Connor, but the characterization from Books & Culture—"not like anyone else"—is perhaps best, inviting readers to discover this provocative writer for themselves.
"Shine on Me tops my 2016 reading list." —The Austin Chronicle
"As if to prove that a good idea can’t be exhausted, Shine on Me plays a particularly intimate variation on the ‘real’ challenges of envisioning all those hands—hot, medium, and cold—on hard, shiny possibility. From casual to urgent, their voices become a little democracy of desire."—Rosellen Brown, author of Half a Heart and Before and After
"At a West Texas auto dealership, competitors vie for a brand-new pickup truck in a contest to see who can keep his or her hands on the prize for the longest time.The inspiration here is S.R. Bindler's 1998 documentary Hands on a Hard Body, about a car dealership which ran a similar competition. The rules are straightforward: contestants must keep at least one hand on the truck at all times except during occasional designated break periods. Whoever makes it longest wins. When readers catch up with Mojtabai's (Autumn, 2015, etc.) fictional participants, they're in the 65th hour of the contest, and only seven remain. Among those still woozily standing are Bev, a former addict whose Christianity has literally, it seems, saved her; Gib, who wanted to be a Marine but was turned down for giving "one or two ‘smart-ass answers' "; and Dan and Josh, fraternal twins who resent each other so ferociously that one has changed his surname to differentiate himself from the other. Also on hand is a journalist, aptly named Trew Reade, who gives readers context but also has an intriguing back story of his own. (Written in the third person, the short chapters rotate between characters' perspectives). Mojtabai's challenge is to keep the narrative moving despite the fact that, for much of the novel, little happens (to the point that two of the chapters are subtitled "Nothing is Happening"). More often than not she succeeds, in part by focusing on the characters' acute economic anxiety (one woman's recollection of the expenses associated with her daughter's American Spirit doll is especially well-done). Indeed, the story here is less the contest itself than what has led the contestants to compete in the first place. An empathetic glimpse into the lives of characters who could really use a win." —Kirkus Reviews
"It’s rare to find a gorgeous stylist and a writer of substance yoked in the same artist. A. G. Mojtabai is that, and more. Her work shows heart and unsentimental kindness that leaves the reader enlightened and wiser. Her books are treasures."—Roger Rosenblatt, author of Thomas Murphy and The Book of Love
"Mojtabai’s compact, poignant, and amusing contemplation of the banality of life—and death—can be read in one sitting. Like the hopefuls who stand around the pickup truck for days on end dreaming their own version of the American dream, some characters will stick with readers and others will melt into the shimmering landscape."
"A riveting novel set in West Texas, a world of fast food and slow, searing perseverance." —Richard Giannone, author of Flannery O’Connor and the Mystery of Love
"Mojtabai’s fiction nearly always makes the reader wonder what lies beneath the simple prose. Surely these characters are meant to embody what the author sees as their state’s materialism, ignorance and shallowness as well as to express their distinctive reasons for wanting the pickup desperately enough to undergo this torture. She depicts her people with understanding, sometimes with affection, and always with world-class skill. The result is a memorably powerful short novel." —Donald Mace Williams, Lubbock-Avalanche Journal