F250 by Bud Smith

Kim suggested recently that we take a brief break from the list in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books and talk about some of the other books we’ve been reading recently that we think people should know about. Kim did that last week and discussed a few, and now it’s my turn. The moment she suggested it, I knew I was going to be talking about F250 by Bud Smith.

Right before the kid with the bloody face appears, a glass smashes in the kitchen. Someone shouts. I do nothing. I barely live here. My things are still in the pickup. Seth is trashed. I’m still horribly sober.

This is my first day back. There’s a purple Post-it note lying dusty on Seth’s coffee table. The note is dated months earlier, when I was probably in Idaho or Utah or Arizona or on the moon. It says, simply, “Call Natalie.”

Sure. That’s exactly what I want to do with my life, call Natalie. But here I am, on the back deck, alone, in-between calling her and not calling her—a state of telephone limbo. I should be getting trashed with everyone else at the party at this dilapidated house.

Lee Casey is at a stuck point in his life. He’s back at home after cruising the countryside aimlessly, doing small stonework jobs that do at least make him happy, off the track of those around him who’d started to grow up and go to college. He’s among friends similarly shipwrecked in a house that was supposed to be torn down months ago. It’s cool though, because they’re going to take their band to L.A. They’re going to really get going…except Lee knows they aren’t. He knows it isn’t going to happen, and it doesn’t.

He’s grounded and honest, taking pleasure in the solid things he has, but there aren’t really enough of those. His truck is the best metaphor for his life, a beat up monster he uses for hauling stone and cement with a tremendous amount of force…but little to no brakes:

There were a lot of crashes—into people, places, things, whatever was around. The truck was too heavy, I was weighed down, springs sagged, hills were too steep, roads were too slick—I couldn’t control it.

Too heavy, weighed down, couldn’t be controlled. Not the best idea, but not really one about which there was a whole lot of choice. You could just as accurately say these things about Lee’s life as his truck.

Still, though there is a lot Lee cannot control (a girl who cheats on him, a friend OD’ing, the trajectory of the band, and so on), there are some things that Lee simply does not control. He gets hung up on the big picture and doesn’t always take what control he can. You can’t really blame that; many people’s lives go that way.

When I think of Lee Casey after reading, I’m reminded of that ‘beaten yet blessed’ thing Kerouac supposedly said to describe the beat generation. I don’t know whether Kerouac really said what I think he did, but it fits the main character of F250 so well that I’m going with it. Beaten yet blessed, that’s Lee Casey in a nutshell. He’s had some pretty bad things happen for him, but some pretty good things too. He’s a good guy and doesn’t have a whole lot, but he can appreciate what he has and a certain kind of light seems to shine on him. It’s cool, and it’s delivered in some wonderful prose.

F250 often comes across quiet, though there is plenty of noise, but it moves with the relentless force of that F-250 with bad brakes. To some extent, we’re just fooling ourselves that there is any control…but we still need to take what control we can without sweating the rest. Lee Casey has a lot to say that you need to hear, but it’s not something he can say direct. You got to read the book; then you’ll get it.