A terrifically engaging story... elaborately tricked out with eye-catching accessories, from drag racing to drug dealing to rape and murder and a host of other violations.... Like Richard Russo , Philipp Meyer and Mark Slouka, Harrison understands the rusting body of American labor. These are grease-smeared pages, full of the sounds of revving motors and the anxieties of narrowly educated men in a fading field.... Whether or not you love cars, Harrison speaks that special dialect so fluently that anyone with a heart can hear it. In this end, this isn’t so much a novel about the great vehicles we lost as it is about the antique ideals we keep rebuilding and polishing. 

- The Washington Post

This is a novel about a vanishing way of life, the world of the muscle cars and the world of childhood. Told through Justin’s eyes, we watch him become a grown-up who wishes that he could go back in time and fix the wrongs he perpetuated. But though “the man can’t change the boy,” and that seemingly perfect life is gone, Justin can remember that heady feeling, when “for an instant the world has possibilities it will never have again.” And the genius of this extraordinary novel is that it shows us those possibilities, and it makes us ache and grieve for them, too.

- The San Francisco Chronicle  

A tale of growing up—Harrison’s debut novel crackles with life, immersing the reader in the world of muscle cars while weaving a complex narrative that oscillates between the familiar and the unusual. A smart, insightful read. 

- Publisher's Weekly



Ever since Harrison earned his MFA at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop program, his stories have appeared inleading literary publications, including McSweeney’s. Now stepping onto a larger stage with a first novelbased on a story published in the Atlantic, Harrison peers inside the little-seen world of muscle-car shopsin this tale about hero worship, betrayal, and auto mechanics. Just out of high school, aspiring mechanicJustin Bailey falls under the spell of legendary car-shop owner Nick Campbell and his attractive wife,Mary Ann, and is soon lured into becoming Campbell’s apprentice. Yet as Campbell is about to strikegold with an offer to run a chain of Miami-based high-performance auto shops, the couple’s infant sondies, and Campbell’s genius begins to fade, leaving Justin torn with disillusionment and drawn into anaffair with Mary Ann. Harrison’s characters are fully fleshed, and his prose masterfully polished, makingfor a thoroughly engrossing read and a strikingly original debut novel. 

– Booklist

Debut author Harrison mines his own background as an auto mechanic to deliver a gritty, authentic tale of a complicated marriage threatened by a first love. During the summer of 1985, 17-year-old Justin Bailey interns at Nick Campbell's garage Out of the Hole, one of the few places around that specializes in muscle cars. Years after his own father "accepted his sexuality" and his mother began her descent into alcoholism, Justin finds a father figure in Nick, a local legend among gearheads. Tragedy strikes when Nick and his wife, Mary Ann, lose their infant son to SIDS, and in their grief, the Campbells turn to Justin to fill the void. Justin and Nick go drag racing after hours with a rare Corvette left behind in the shop, chasing death with every heat; at the same time, Justin begins an affair with Mary Ann. The betrayals begin adding up, leading to a grim but well-earned resolution. VERDICT Harrison writes cleanly and vividly about the world of auto garages, producing an elegiac novel about working-class dreams dashed by reality, a Bruce Springsteen song set to prose.

- Library Journal 


​In his fantastic debut novel, Harrison finds surprising resonances between his main plot of a fiery love triangle and an underlying paean to the great American muscle cars and the mechanics who maintained them... One of my favorite debut novels of the year.

- School Library Journal 


​Harrison gives us the grimy inside life of the mechanics’ trade and the discipline’s transcendent possibilities—the blistering blast of a punctured radiator and the steamiest front-seat sex, grand theft auto and small-town drag-racing with a rare Corvette ZL-1. This is a powerful story of cars, friendship, romance, tragedy, and the human necessity to keep driving. A great American car novel just pulled up.

- Harvard Review Online


If an auto shop on the East Coast in the 1980s seems an unlikely setting for a literary work of the highest caliber, think again. This debut novel by Wayne Harrison — an OSU writing professor and award-winning short story writer — is expertly rendered, a coming-of-age tale about a young upstart who falls under the spell of a brilliant mechanic only to fall in love with the man’s wife. Betrayal, desire and high drama ensue, all of it rendered in prose that is muscular yet poetic, and which mines its subject matter for deeper meanings and metaphors that hum like a well-tuned engine. Imagine Turgenev penning a story about first love among grease monkeys and gearheads, and you begin to grasp the heartbreaking story Harrison weaves, full of emotional depth and frank sexual longings that purr and hum until the whole engine of his novel combusts in the painful awakenings and hard knocks that always signal a coming-of-age. A moving book that is as much about love and loss as it is about mopars and mechanics. —  Eugene Weekly


Wayne Harrison’s writing is spare and stark, but precise. His characters are so vivid, you can almost smell the grease and gasoline. Fans of James Sallis’s DRIVE or Nic Pizzolatto’s GALVESTON (also the creator/writer of HBO’s “True Detective”) will appreciate all the “gear-head” details, but for me, who knows nothing about cars and their repair, the “mechanics,” both figurative and literal, feel like a metaphor for Justin’s desire to become a man. At first, he thinks about a man like Nick: “It was hard for me to put into words that I needed this visceral, spontaneous, unapologetic mechanic life to transform me into the man I want to be.” But there’s nothing so sad as watching your heroes fall from grace and having your dreams dashed --- something that Harrison relates with heartbreaking agility in his impressive debut novel.

- Book Reporter


Harrison was an auto mechanic before becoming an award-winning short-story author. His knowledge of the inner workings of a car is as clear as his expertise in the machinations of the human heart in this poetic debut novel about muscle cars, hero worship, love, and betrayal in working-class Connecticut. 

- Portland Monthly Editor's Pick


Wayne Harrison’s short story “Least Resistance” was first selected by The Atlantic for publication, then by Richard Russo for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2010, and then by me for the little star I append every year to my favorite stories from that anthology. Each of these selections are largely, if not purely, subjective, of course, but the writers who manage to earn all of them become, for me, reference points and celebrities. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that Harrison’s debut novel, The Spark and the Drive, released July 15 by St. Martin’s Press, was developed from the story that had earned my star. Not only did I get to read more of it, but I also got to witness its evolution from one form to another... It’s an exciting book, full of high-stakes drag races, dangerous driving, crimes and betrayals, and gut-wrenching close calls, all rendered with Harrison’s literary sensibilities.

- Fiction Writer's Review


There's nothing I enjoy more than entering a fictional world over which an author demonstrates complete mastery. That's exactly what Wayne Harrison offers his lucky readers in The Spark and the Drive.

– Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Empire Falls


This novel vividly renders the cult-like world of muscle car enthusiasts, but the author's ultimate concerns are the sparks and misfires of the human heart. Wayne Harrison is an exciting new voice in American fiction. 

- Ron Rash, best-selling author of The Cove and Serena


Young men will always idolize the father substitutes who promise them a way out of the familiar.  Ever volatile, such relationships fuel some of our best literature, and to this category we must now add Wayne Harrison's gorgeous and grittily poetic debut novel.  Set in an auto shop in working class Connecticut at the end of the golden age of the American muscle car, The Spark and the Drive has all the horsepower and headlong beauty of the extraordinary machines at its center.

– Ann Packer, best-selling author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier and Swim Back to Me


The Spark and the Drive is a beautiful blend of adolescent lust and grown-up love and grief. At 17 Justin Bailey's world appears to be all about cars and sex; but at the heart of it all is a desire for friendship and family and a sense of belonging.  Wayne Harrison is an extremely gifted writer, fully capturing all the complexities of Justin's world in ways both endearing and frightening. This novel is as expertly built and fine tuned as the engines he writes about.

– Jill McCorkle, best-selling author of Life After Life


The Spark and the Drive  is a superb debut novel by an exciting writer.  Harrison is that rare novelist –Tim Gautreaux also comes to mind – who's at home in the mechanical world; he knows what it's like to get your hands dirty and greasy and to work all day long on a shop floor. But perhaps more importantly, he knows the human heart, and in these pages he's managed a rare feat: to write a novel that's as moving as it is suspenseful, as tender as it is tough.

– Steve Yarbrough, award-winning author of Prisoners of War and The Realm of Last Chances


This fuel-injected story plunges us into a fascinating, vibrant world of work, family, desire, and love. With his powerful insight and generous heart, Harrison reveals a character searching for his path through this world, struggling to understand what it means to make an accounting of a life, and finally what it means to be a man.

– Keith Scribner, award-winning author of  The Good Life and The Oregon Experiment


Wayne Harrison knows how to mash the gas pedal to the floor so hard it sends the reader into the seats, and how to let up and cruise the dark intersections of friendship and love. The Spark and the Drive is both about learning what it means to be a man and what it means to burn one down. Harrison writes with the kind of power that his characters - mechanics, hard cases, drifters, dreamers, usually all one and the same - strive for in the garage: the raw burning muscle of things that used to be. 

– Alexi Zentner, award-winning author of Touch


The Spark and the Drive is a potent accomplishment: a novel about how quickly the shape of a life can change, and about the years a person can spend trying to sort through the pieces. It's written with acuity and grace, and best of all it knows how to hold its power in reserve, shifting and accelerating at the most surprising moments, so that it has the rhythm and momentum of a good street race.

– Kevin Brockmeier, best-selling author of The Illumination


Wayne Harrison knows, like no one I’ve ever read before, how to describe what goes on underneath the hood of a car. But more, much more, he knows what goes underneath our skins. He knows all about our deepest desires and what we’ll do to attain them. The Spark and the Drive is as intense and well-written a love story as you’ll find. I’ll be in the grip of Justin's –  and Mary Ann’s – story for months to come.

– Peter Orner, award-winning author of Esther Stories and Love and Shame and Love


Wayne Harrison knows his way around the recesses of desire as well as he knows his way under the hood of a car – that is, with masterly precision and comprehension. The Spark and the Drive is a throwback novel; no gimmicks or preciousness, just heart-gutting prose about men and women that veers with agility between the muscular and the poetic.

– Teddy Wayne, award-winning author of Kapitoil and The Love Song of Johnny Valentine


How cars and mechanics – so central to American life, so key to popular culture – have gone this long without a wonderful novel to celebrate them is a mystery.  Harrison will be new to most readers but with one novel he has staked a virtually exclusive claim on working class Connecticut, the women and the men, the loves and betrayals, and the muscle cars that drive them to their destinies. If you're lucky enough to be invited to Bruce Springsteen's next birthday, this beautifully written novel will be the perfect gift. 

– Scott Spencer, best-selling author of Endless Love and A Ship Made of Paper


Told with equal parts grit and tenderness, The Spark and the Drive follows the dangers, thrills, and twists of fate that make one boy into a man and lead him to the painful discovery that love and loyalty can't always be reconciled. A piercing and stylish debut.

– Maggie Shipstead, best-selling author of Seating Arrangements





Reviews for

The Spark and the Drive

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