The Grand Tour is a charming novel about the unlikely partnership of a washed up writer and a 19 year old college student on the verge of dropping out. The heart of the novel is Richard Lazar, an alcoholic twice-divorced Vietnam war veteran. He meets the young Vance at the start of his tour for the war memoir Without Leave. Vance is Lazar’s biggest fan, and volunteers to pick him up from the airport when he comes to do a reading at the university. It starts to go wrong when Richard gets drunk before his reading and trashes the manuscript Vance wrote and gave to Richard to review. Despite his new success from his memoir, Richard tells Vance he should do anything but be a writer.
Once he sobers up, Richard invites Vance along on his book tour to make it up to him. The rest of the novel details their travels as Vance drives the cranky, drunken Richard to his reading stops. Richard quits drinking and then starts up again. In between chapters, we get snippets of Without Leave, a memoir-within-the-novel that is supposed to give us a sense of why Richard is such a screw up – it’s a standard The Things They Carried-esque war cliché, full of senseless violence and youthful confusion. Along the road they meet up with Richard’s daughter, who has bitter memories of a childhood spent pining over the attentions of her father, who was usually too hungover to have anything to give.
By the end of the novel, it’s clear that it isn’t his history in the war that makes Richard Lazar the man he is. There’s a certain desperation for desperation’s sake about the characters in this novel. They create their own trouble, but they eventually find peace from the journey their desperation forces them on.
Price has written a strong first novel, fully realized and built with strong empathy for his characters. It’s not a coming-of-age story and it’s not a road trip story–it doesn’t have that easily wrapped up satisfaction, but I do feel that I went on a worthwhile journey with the two characters in his book.