Review: State Highway One by Sam Coley

After the sudden death of his parents, Alex returns home from Dubai to New Zealand, where he and his twin sister Amy set off on a road trip down State Highway 1, which runs the length of both main islands. They hope to heal old wounds and revive their familial bond. Alex also hopes to reconnect with his home.

“State Highway One” settles into the rhythms of the road trip novel, with lots of beautifully-evocated drive-by-scenery, soul-search talks during long stretches across the blacktop, and unpredictable encounters with locals and fellow road warriors.

The narrative regularly cuts back in time to present readers with glimpses of the Alex’s adolescence. As the queer son of famous film directors, Alex never wanted for anything tangible; but Alex and Amy’s was a youth deprived of paternal love, and their unconventional upbringing, which saw them basically raise themselves, has warped their relationship; twisted it into something possibly unsalvageable.

The moment he could, Alex fled New Zealand for Dubai, taking up an internship and cutting all ties with his family. His specific reason for this, the catalyst for his departure, is hinted at but never explicitly stated until the novel’s climax, which adds an unexpected layer of suspense. But what ultimately elevates “State Highway One” above the cascade of fiction about homecomings is Sam Coley’s handling of repressed grief and trauma; an undercurrent that spills over into Alex’s every day. It’s a poignant, powerful excavation and Coley belies his status as a debut novelist by not providing an easy, aesthetic resolution. Real life doesn’t work that way.

ISBN: 9781869714260
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Hachette
Publish Date: 25-Aug-2020
Country of Publication: New Zealand