Car Books: The Afterlife of Emerson Tang

A quest to reunite the chassis of a vintage roadster with its original engine takes the reader from Manhattan to Lime Rock Park to the Pebble Beach Concours in Paula Champa’s debut novel. The story follows four characters who have an interest in the fictional Beacon 135 roadster – a collector who is suffering from a fatal illness; his archivist, through whose eyes the story is told; an artist who drove the vintage roadster when it was new and used it to produce her greatest work; and the grandson of the man whose company built the car. As their lives intersect, the quest becomes about more than the car itself, as the novel explores the concept of speed and “the illusion of moving forward,” the inevitability of death and the process of dying, and the business of living a fulfilled life.

And yet the car is the heart of the novel as the history of the roadster is explored and each of the characters’ deeply personal connections to it unfold. Along the way, Champa explores the motives of car collectors and the role of the car in modern society while advocating development of alternative powertrains and new modes of transportation. The Afterlife of Emerson Tang is an engaging novel in which the author captures the world of car enthusiasm and car collecting and successfully weaves them into her larger themes of death, coping with loss, and looking forward.

The Afterlife of Emerson Tang by Paula Champa 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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