PIPELINER, BY SHAWN HARTJE
PUBLICATION: HELEN SPRINGS PRESS; NOVEMBER 30, 2016
About the book:
For seventeen-year-old Jason Krabb, high school life in 1990s Idaho is a world of cargo shorts, cassette tapes, and junk food. Plagued equally by algebra and puberty, Jason sets out to find a girlfriend and become a rock guitarist. His quest is irreversibly jolted when he attends a bonfire and meets an alluring girl from the other side of town and a ragtag crew who are bringing gas lines through the desert in order to keep the lights on in Portland and Seattle, places where Jason hopes to find his nirvana as a guitarist.
Meanwhile, things deteriorate at home. Jason’s pediatrician mom, Leah, sadly faces the twilight of her parenting years while his father, Curtis, contends with the enormity of running a big ticket research laboratory and coming to terms with his son’s wayward path.
Pipeliner is at once a coming of age love story and a comical time stamp of early 90s family life. Set in the fictional Idaho town of Helen Springs, pop. 58,000, its characters are as vibrant as the lofty peaks and purple sunsets of the high desert. Here we find rich farmers, poor ranchers, dutiful Mormons, government honchos, disgruntled vets, drug-dealing bruisers, irksome teachers, and spirited students, all doing their best to keep the lights on.
Who, what, where, and when:
Set in the 1990’s in Idaho, the main character is 17-year-old Jason Krabb. Jason wants to be a famous musician in Seattle or Portland, is struggling with Algebra, struggling with parental rules, and looking for a good time. The novel begins near the end of his junior year in high school and Jason is torn between going to work as a pipeliner or going back to complete his senior year in the fall. Jason lives in an upscale neighborhood with his Pediatrician mother, Leah and his researcher father, Curtis.
There is also an older brother, Robert, that arrives home from Princeton from his summer break and, much to his parents’ displeasure, is still undecided in his major and still in love with his Mormon girlfriend Mindy.
There are numerous friends, family members, and teachers that are a part of the novel, but most significant to Jason is a girl from the wrong side of the tracks named Betsy and her sister’s boyfriend/pipeliner named Allen.
Thoughts on the novel:
One of the greatest things about this novel was the time period and mention of several of my favorite music from that time (I graduated HS in 1993). Stone Temple Pilots, The Spin Doctors, Metallica, Sublime, and so on… Ahhh, I loved that music.
Regarding writing style, Shawn Hartje’s writing is similar to that of a much more seasoned author. His word usage, dialogue, and descriptions were spectacular, getting his point across while also leaving things up to the readers’ imagination.
Jason was such a complex and developed character. Granted, he was still an average teenage boy from that era, but the author painted such an in-depth picture of Jason that I felt like he was my own son by the time I finished reading. Well, that, or like tons of people that I knew in high school, lol. He wanted freedom, he wanted to party with his friends, he wanted to lose his virginity, he wanted to experiment with drugs, but most of all, he wanted to play guitar, sing, and write lyrics. His inner conflict over numerous situations was so real and the way he was sort of stumbling into adulthood was very relatable.
I certainly identified with Jason’s mom as she struggled to accept his impending adulthood and his thirst for freedom without any real goals or objectives. Considering my baby goes off to college this fall, I know how it can tug at your heart watching them grow up. Couple that with her desire for Robert to come out of his shell and meet some new girls, Leah spent a lot of time frustrated in the novel.
When Jason met Betsy she seemed so cool and mysterious to him and he was instantly hooked. However, as the novel progressed, the fragility of her home life became evident, as did the fact that Betsy was confused and lost.
Pipeliner is a funny and at times, disturbing novel about a young man trying to find his way in the world. Jason made several mistakes throughout the story but also had several victories. Which, isn’t that what that time of our life is for? You screw up, learn from it, and hopefully, over time stop repeating the same mistakes. Whether as a parent or a young adult yourself, I think any reader could find several things to identify with while reading this novel. This was a wonderful read from a very talented writer.
*Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!
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