Book Review - Brainy road trip
Driving Mr. Albert a wacky memoir and a search for meaning
Author Michael Paterniti has written a book so subtle and surreal it reads more like a novel than non-fiction. Centered around Paterniti’s cross-country drive with retired pathologist Thomas Harvey and the remains of Einstein’s brain (which float in formaldehyde inside a Tupperware bowl in the trunk of their rental car), Driving Mr. Albert is one short, strange read.
On a cold New Jersey morning, with California as their destination (Einstein’s granddaughter Evelyn is there, awaiting her first meeting with the brain), the two men and their symbolic third passenger set out on what could possibly be one of the strangest road trips in history. Along the way, Paterniti and Harvey visit the heartland of America, eat in more than a few roadside diners and meet up with a number of bizarre “characters,” including author, William S. Burroughs (!) who was once Thomas Harvey’s next-door neighbor.
Throughout their trip, Paterniti seems to take nothing lightly. Every encounter, every moment is wrought with meaning for him and seems to hold the promise of enlightenment. Truth be told, the passages about his search for the meaning of life can be a bit tedious at times. But, in the end, it’s these passages that actually make the book work. Paterniti is sincere in his quest, as well as in his desire to understand both Thomas Harvey and the significance of Einstein’s brain, and it is this sincerity and inner-journeying that lends personal relevancy to what would otherwise be a tale just too bizarre to believe.
Part road trip memoir, part history lesson and part mystery, the finished product is a non-linear tapestry of man’s search for meaning, a brief biography of Einstein and a quest to discover who the hell Thomas Harvey really is, all rolled into one.
Driving Mr. Albert offers no easy answers to any of the questions that are raised. Instead, Paterniti provides enough substance for readers to come to their own conclusions.