Written by Kevin Lynn Helmick – Nothing much happens to protagonist Billy Keyhoe in Driving Alone. Then again, everything happens to Billy Keyhoe in Driving Alone. Helmick’s slim novella is a relatively short tale, but has all the suspense and significance of a much larger volume.
The opening of Driving Alone will be familiar territory for any readers who enjoy noir crime fiction. Billy Keyhoe is a desperate man. Worse, he is a frustrated man. As the story opens, he has just beaten his girlfriend and then tries to rob a gas station. Like most aspects of Billy Keyhoe’s life, the robbery is not very successful. So he hits the road, planning to drive from his hometown of Waycross, Georgia, to West Texas.
The best laid plans go oft awry. Billy Keyhoe doesn’t have the best laid plans, but they still goes awry. It’s the story of his life. And readers will not be surprised to find that he does not make it to West Texas. Instead, he meets a mysterious young lady named Feather along the way. Feather changes Billy’s plans. What’s more, she reveals his frustrations. Billy is overrun by frustrations with his parents dating back to childhood – frustrations with his deadbeat life, frustrations with virtually everyone he knows. Of course, most gallingly for Billy, he is sexually frustrated. Feather has a curious, almost surgical, skill in laying bare all of these frustrations.
Driving Alone begins in the wake of a crime, and carries on into another. But Helmick’s novella is masterful in its stretching the meaning of crime fiction. The crimes are a catalyst for Billy Keyhoe’s surreal self-discovery, aided by the mysteriously perceptive Feather.
It is the interactions between Billy and Feather that endow Driving Alone with a mournful beauty. There may not seem to be much beautiful about a thoroughgoing lowlife like Billy Keyhoe, but his frustration and confusion are things we can all identify with. Feather’s importance goes beyond helping Billy come to grips with his underachieving life; through Billy Keyhoe and Feather Dane, Helmick limns the most basic quandaries of humanity with a melancholy elegance. This surreal beauty is matched by the earthy Billy and the hot Georgia blacktop. Keyhoe is, after all, a gas station thief and an abusive man to boot. Billy’s vulgar persona runs up against the more contemplative Feather, and he finally even seeks awareness and redemption. Helmick displays human nature in its many glorious and inglorious facets.
As the author blends the gritty noir protagonist with a plot worthy of Rod Serling, you will be drawn deeper into the mystery of Driving Alone. At 91 pages, it may not take very long to finish. But the book will stick with you long past the final page, and you may find yourself thumbing through the short novella again to revisit the pregnant dialogue.
Blank Slate Press
CFL Rating: 5 Stars