“ELECTRA 225,” BY BERNARD MENDILLO
PUBLICATION: CREATESPACE INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING PLATFORM; APRIL 30, 2015
Synopsis: Electra 225 is a funny and heartwarming novel about a man who inherits his father’s classic Buick and convinces his troubled family to take a summer trip to the Pacific Ocean—for lunch. When his father, dies, Andy Scalabenfro inherits a 1959 Buick Electra 225. A massive Buick—with holes on the side! The high point of America’s love affair with the road. Andy and his wife Christi are barely doing all right in their life in Providence, Rhode Island. He’s lost his job and is filling in by substitute teaching. Their teenage kids, Henry and Morgan, talk to them a little less than most teenage kids. Christi is a CPA, who has never really gotten over the one lost opportunity of her life. Andy decides that they should use the summer to take a car trip to California, see the Pacific Ocean, have lunch and then come back. “You can pick the restaurant,” he tells Christi. They’re off. Reluctantly. But off, nonetheless. For about twenty minutes. Then the car breaks down and they have to pull off the highway in Johns Towne, Rhode Island. And they can’t leave. They can’t go home because they rented their house for the month. Adventures follow. Salvation may be at hand. Oddly, everything seems to focus on Detroit. Then there is Agnes, the octogenarian who Andy has hired to type his handwritten manuscript. They never meet, but converse through notes in Andy’s writing. Slowly, Agnes and Andy find a way to do what has to be done.
I just finished reading “Electra 225” which was a welcome break from the novels that I typically read. This novel is categorized as fiction, but I could easily see this fiction novel based on firsthand experiences. Andy and Christi are married and live with their two teenagers in Providence, R.I. After Andy’s father dies, Andy gets his Buick Electra 225, therefore, foregoing some of the proceeds of the sale of his father’s home – which Christy is not happy about. Andy then loses his job and decides to start substitute teaching. Watching their family grow further apart every day Andy decides that they will drive cross-country in the Buick over summer break. Of course, no one is happy about this and everyone grumbles and whines about it, but they set off to see the Pacific Ocean. However, they only make it a short distance from Providence to Johns Towne, where the Electra breaks down and has to be fixed. They rented their house for the month while they were gone on vacation so they can’t go home, resulting in them staying in a fleabag motel across the street from the mechanic that will be working on the Buick. Instead of their big cross-country vacation, they spend the next few weeks in one room in a hotel full of hookers trying to entertain themselves and get along in this little town.
Let me start with Andy… I loved, loved, loved this character. He was smart, hilarious, kind and a consistent optimist despite his grouchy family and the situation they got into being stuck in Johns Towne. Having spent a good part of my life teaching, I especially loved the early parts of the novel when Andy is working as a substitute teacher and his disdain for the generic lesson plans left instructing him to put the kids in groups and assign a few chapters of reading and some questions. I also love the stories about his father and grandfather, getting their driver’s license, buying cars, and so on. My favorite part of the novel without a doubt was the story of his mother getting her driver’s license, although she never drove again:
Or did the instructor have such a low appreciation for humanity that he was willing to let Angela Scalabenfro legally pilot a three-thousand-pound bomb at will amidst the unsuspecting citizenry?
Despite how hilarious Andy was at times, I found myself almost cringing throughout the novel at how little love and respect he received from his wife and children. No one’s perfect and everyone has their faults but this man tried to be optimistic and positive, tried to make the best of situations – but got nothing back. One of his greatest desires was for his wife to tell him that she loved him, which she never did. I also loved Andy’s relationship with Agnes, the older woman that he hired to type his novel. He insisted on writing it out in notebooks and then mailed the pages to her, which she typed up on the computer and returned to him. They never met but exchanged notes back and forth about the manuscript and he often asked her whether or not things should be included or explained why he was discussing anything at all, and the notes were great!
Speaking of Christi – I just didn’t like her. Not one thing about her. Yes at the end she’s praising the trip, but I felt she was a miserable thorn in the side of the human race for 99.9% of the novel. Christi is one of those wives whose only purpose and goal in life appeared to be busting her husband’s balls and belittling him as much as possible. I wasn’t crazy about the teenagers either in the beginning, but they found ways to entertain themselves and began to ease up on Andy as the story progressed. Plus, they’re teenagers who normally would act put out and pouty about a road trip with their parents – that is not abnormal behavior. Luckily as their characters were further developed, it was clear they took after Dad more than Mom. Everyone has regrets and “what-ifs” that they think about as they go through life. However, Christi didn’t just appear to have regrets but I felt as if she literally despised her life and wanted the world to know it. But – as Andy would say – I could be wrong.
This novel represents so many different themes and has so much meaning. Of course, there is a lot of focus on the Buick because of its symbolic representation of his grandfather, father, and their families. The Buick is a source of pride, adventure, and togetherness within a family. More importantly, “Electra 225” allows readers a glimpse into the life and mind of a man that has lost his father, lost his job, and most prominently – feels his family slipping away as the children grow older and more independent. He has a wife that lives in the past and focuses on regrets while his children are ready to spread their wings and figure out their own lives all while Andy is desperate for everyone to be connected and happy. Overall the family learns that much like the old Buick, each person in a family represents a part of a purpose and that all of those parts must work together in order to run.
Regardless of your normal genre preference, I think everyone should read this wonderful novel and experience the way Bernard Mendillo brings his characters, words, and Buick to life.
Learn more about Bernard Mendillo by visiting his web page.
Purchase “Electra 225” on Amazon.
*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.