“Hundred Day Haul” is a bittersweet drive through a different America, one that is worth remembering —especially in the hopes of that optimism being restored.
“Hundred Day Haul: 27,000 Miles in 100 Days,” Chris Huff, Vitallight Press, 2009, 283 pages. $19.90.
While “Hundred Day Haul” marks Chris Huff’s first novel, it’s clear that this story was a long time coming. Based on Mr. Huff’s personal experience, mixed with fictional occurrences, “Hundred Day Haul” gives an authentic depiction of life at the end of the 20th Century.
Mr. Huff tells the story of narrator Patrick Finnegan, an energetic 20-something who is trying to make sense of life. While Patrick struggles with life’s challenges, he maintains two characteristics that make him equally intriguing and charming: self-assurance and exuberance. With these two characteristics, he seems as comfortable drinking on Circuit Avenue as he does studying Emily Dickinson, as he does teaching on a Native American reservation. Yes, you read that list correctly. Not only that, but through the course of the novel, he succeeds at being an entrepreneur, a skilled photographer and —what the book is truly about — a chronicler of the 90s. Mr. Huff has created a narrator who truly defies classification, and it is for this reason that the reader wants to stay with Patrick through his adventures.
Patrick’s ultimate adventure is driving across the United States with 100 days left in the 20th Century, marking his observations and taking photographs. Like Keuroac’s style in “On the Road,” Mr. Huff successfully creates the atmosphere of driving forward, of leaving behind what was already known in exchange for random people and events. At a party in Key West, Mr. Finnegan comments, “I circled them with the camera zooming in on their faces and their dirty hair and worn-out clothing. Crowds of people would approach, stand, stare, drop some change and then move on,” a quote that, in a way, sums up what happens on a cross-country drive. People are seen (some zoomed in on, some not), and they all are doing their own thing (even in a crowd), but no matter what, the driver moves on. Patrick understands the poignancy of these circumstances, snapping people in a place in time.
The place in time, of course, is the end of 1999 — and this time period creates immediacy to Patrick’s experiences. It’s recent enough that the historical events are still personally tangible and memorable. Yet, it’s a time before 9/11, the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, and the recent recession, and as a result, the optimism that he exudes and observes seems like a time lost. “Hundred Day Haul,” as a result, is a bittersweet drive through a different America, one that is worth remembering — especially in the hopes of that optimism being restored.
Mr. Huff, therefore, achieves what he set out to do. He explained to me that his “intent was to give the reader a raw, unedited and uncut voice. A voice that could be heard through the words as if I was speaking to the reader with high volume from the pages. It is all about spontaneous reality, and reporting about the roaring 1990s and the micro-revolution of technology and the advent of the internet during that time.” Mr. Finnegan’s voice and interpretation of the 1990s definitely will stay with you; and for all MV Times’ readers, Patrick’s experiences on Martha’s Vineyard will particularly stay with you. The Vineyard is a key place in the novel, as it becomes the center that he always travels back to in the summer. It is a home for him, a place where people rally around him; and as his needs change throughout the story, the Vineyard and its residents adjust, always capable of helping him.
Like Mr. Finnegan, Mr. Huff considers the Vineyard a home, a place that provides changing comforts. Since Mr. Huff is on the Vineyard two to three times a month, I asked him about his favorite places, both from the 90s and today. He told that me that during the 90s, “it was all about Circuit Avenue, and dancing to the bands of that era;” now he enjoys the Vineyard with his wife, two children, and Wheaton Terrier, “going hiking on the Land Bank trails or driving out to our own place on the beaches of Chappy.”
Mr. Huff’s next project will follow Mr. Finnegan’s career in sales, as he travels to New York and throughout New England. He also is planning on releasing a coffee table book of the photos from the hundred day haul. So, do not despair when you finish “Hundred Day Haul” and you want more Patrick Finnegan. You shall see him again.
Author’s Talks and Book Signings, Friday, July 2, 7–10 pm, Shindig, 201 Upper Main St., Edgartown. Monday, July 26, 7:30 pm, Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven.
Freelance writer Alexa Dooseman divides her time between Oak Bluffs and San Francisco.