In Susan Tepper’s novel, What Drives Men, a man escapes his limited horizons by taking the oddest of jobs, and simply, doing it. The story begins with our somewhat reliable narrator existing in a rather claustrophobic plane he shares with artifacts of his exploded marriage, some guppies, a somewhat unreliable brother, a homicidal squirrel, and a psychic who is always right and sometimes delivers groceries. Nearly paralyzed by PTSD and anxiety, Russell, a Desert Storm veteran, chooses to face down his fear and hit the road, ferrying an aging, cantankerous and sex-obsessed music icon with a fear of flying from New Jersey to Colorado.
The farther the story carries us, and Russell, from the reality of our daily lives, the closer we get to what makes these characters, and those they meet along the way, tick — literally, what drives them. The brilliance of this construct lies in the fact that no one is a device or caricature, however we may be led to believe at their introduction, but a complicated human being, perhaps not very self-aware but nevertheless worthy of happiness and perhaps even redemption. Tepper does not bludgeon us with this axiom, she allows it to emerge by screening in rapid montage, myriad details and moments through Russell’s eyes, so it all flows at us with a lifelike, if a bit nervous, simultaneity. And it never bogs down.
Tepper does not rely on her cleverness or seduce the reader, nor does she settle for a cheap laugh, so the narrative voice never loses its soul or complexity even in the most extreme situations. By taking us deep inside Russell’s often cathartic experiences moment by moment, she explores the ultimate separateness and incomprehensibility of human life, as well the likely impossibility of certain kinds of change. At the same time, she manages to tempt us with glimmers of real hope, and even the potential for finding joy along the way.
Published in paperback by Susan Tepper, What Drives Men is on ‘the list’ for the American Book Fest Best Book Awards.
Susan Tepper is the author of eight published books of fiction and poetry.
Her current road novel “What Drives Men” was shortlisted at American
Book Fest Best Book Awards. Other honors and awards include eighteen
Pushcart Prize Nominations, a Pulitzer Prize Nomination for the novel
“What May Have Been” (Cervena Barva Press, and currently being adapted
for the stage), NPR’s Selected Shorts Series, Second Place Winner in
Story/South Million Writers Award, Best Story of 17 Years of Vestal Review,
Shortlisted 7th in the Zoetrope Novel Contest (2003), Best of the Net and
more. Tepper is a native New Yorker. For additional information please