State Highway One is a disturbing read. Gripping, though. As fast paced as the car roaring down those familiar NZ roads at death defying speed with the deranged, drunk, sleepless boy at the wheel and his harpy twin sister lighting his cigarettes and talking in his ear. He loses her occasionally but she always finds him again. Weird, that.
They’re both selfish, unlikable kids. They’re made that way by their selfish, unlikable parents who are Auckland mega-celebs: rich movie moguls who trot the globe and abandon their kids in the swanky party pad to finish their private schooling free-range. Do people like this really exist? Feels very LA, but perhaps Auckland is heading that way and growing a generation of rich, entitled brats.
So Alex, now 21, is called home after the fatal car crash that sets the story in motion. He has run away from his insufferable home life (the rich have the same problems as everyone else: family relationships, unrequited love, sexuality issues) and lands a high paying job in Dubai. We flash back there occasionally to see his problems have travelled with him. Other past memories give a bit of of coming-of-age feel to the story and make this the kind of book that would race around a classroom of adolescents, though the glorification of excessively stupid behaviour makes me uneasy.
The novel starts at high speed: Alex and his sister gunning up State Highway One to the top of the island, smoking and bitching. At Cape Reinga, where the spirits leave this land, they say good bye to their parents. Alex looks at a pohutukawa tree and contemplates suicide but his sister, Amy talks him out of it. She’s the boss. She’s always been the boss.
So it is when they get back to Auckland, Amy tells him to keep on driving. She wants to go all the way to the bottom of the country, to see Antarctica from the southern tip of Stewart Island (the kids aren’t hot on geography outside of Auckland and my inner geo-nerd suggests Coley’s also not as familiar with State Highway One as he might be).
This could be a cathartic roadie where the twins work through all their rage and hostility. Twins are meant to have this kind of bond, a magic empathy, right? Not these two. They are selfish and soulless and stupid for day after day. Amy goads Alex until his misses his flight back to Dubai, the car falls to pieces, he drives and drives in a condition that could easily kill them both and anyone else they meet on the road. Alex, in turn, thinks nothing of letting his sister walk off down some remote road to fend for herself. He abandons her in a hotel in Wellington. Dumps her when the car breaks down. These are flawed, narcissistic kids.
I developed scowl lines on my face reading State Highway One. Even when I clued in to what was going on I found it hard to sympathise with the way Alex works through his emotional problems.
But like Alex on his mission, this is a fast paced story and it’s hard to stop reading until you reach the very end. The book left me unbalanced, with a kind of upsetting feeling that I missed something I could have done and a general pissed-off-ness with youth that I seldom feel. That sort of emotional engagement is the sign of a good novel, though not necessarily an enjoyable read.