Rating – 5/10
Overlook Trade Paperbacks
Summary – Stanley Crawford returns to fiction with a savage satire that exposes the materialism and greed in American society. I thought that the first half of the book was hilarious, but the second half lost momentum as Crawford never developed much of a plot.
Review – After reading Stanley Crawford’s Gascoyne, I was thrilled to see that he had returned to writing fiction with 2005’s Petroleum Man. I hoped for more of the same and – to my chagrin – that’s exactly what I got. Petroleum Man is just OK; it shares all of Gascoyne’s drawbacks (and many of its themes) without having some of Gascoyne’s strengths.
Petroleum Man centers on Leon Tuggs, a controlling, car-obsessed, ultra-greedy capitalist. Leon is getting on in years and wants to leave a legacy of his achievements to his grandchildren. So, he has die cast replicas made of all of the vehicles that he has owned during his lifetime. Along with each vehicle, he presents a note to the grandkids; the notes make up the chapters of Petroleum Man.
Crawford’s greatest strength as a writer is his wicked, dry sense of humor. Some parts of Petroleum Man are laugh-out-loud funny. Leon unintentionally reveals himself as selfish, controlling, and grandiose. Here are his remarks about one of the cars that he has driven:
The car was bought new and owned by a steel-mill family who had successfully put down a union demonstration with no loss of life on the side of management (page 47).
The jokes in Petroleum Man sneak up on the reader and the surprise makes them that much better.
The problem with Petroleum Man is that there is no real plot. Crawford has created a great set of characters and he is a skilled stylist, but he doesn’t give the characters much to do. (Gascoyne’s plot – while better – is also somewhat underdeveloped). Once the reader realizes that the book is going nowhere, the jokes begin to seem repetitive and the book meanders to a close, even though it is just 238 pages.
Everything that Petroleum Man does, Gascoyne did better.