Pierson, who has lived in and written about the region for over a decade now, started her book writing career with The Perfect Vehicle: What It Is About Motorcycles in the late 1990s. She then moved on to horses (Dark Horses and Black Beauties: Animals, Women, a Passion) and the loss of beloved landscapes, both urban and rural, local and elsewhere, in her 2007 work The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home.
All mix memoir with tightly-chosen and deeply-researched subject matters that allow her a personal whirlwind of references, observations and musings that she collages together in a blend of colloquial and emotionally-textured writing. Sometimes the material can seem overwrought, or overly thought. Yet its one-of-a-kind voice has always outweighed shortcomings. Which may be why Pierson’s one of those few writers who has remained with the same publisher, W.A. Norton, over the past years of publishing world mayhem.
The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing focuses on an odd group of folks who push their physical limits riding motorcycles across the country in straight bursts; who pride themselves on racking up sleepless 1000 mile days, and adding up eleven (and sometimes more) such feats in a row. More specifically, it holds up as its central hero the strange, obsessed king of this world of Iron Butts, 50-something John Ryan, an unemployed diabetic who’s set, and broken more records in the field than ever imagined.
The book kicks off in a rush of emotional enthusiasm, its mood one of excitement. It’s almost draining, but then the author catches herself (as she does throughout this well timed work) and sets contexts of Ryan, the Iron Butts and her own emotional history, including the fact that her first book charted an earlier love of motorcycle riding she had abandoned with for marriage and the subsequent motherhood that brought her to the area.
“That is what being a writer makes you: the heavy thinking pushes you just across the border, toward a vantage that takes in the whole country,” she writes early on in the book, describing an Iron Butt chronicler…but also, presumably, herself. “He can comment, acerbically, on what these peculiar outsiders are doing, even though he is one of them. And like any consummate critic, he knows his artists as well as his genres. He cannot help but look on helplessly as John Ryan persists in rewriting the rules for the rule-breakers…”
On her book tour for The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing, Pierson is mingling motorcycle enthusiast venues with bookstore appearances, appealing to both Iron Butts and memoir readers drawn by descriptions of emotional upheaval.
“This was exactly where I was meant to be, this road, this speed, this throttle, this hymn of mechanical strength intoned by the constant engine, my companion now. It was coming back to me, rushing back to me, all the miles of all the rides of a time I was now unpacking from a dusty steamer trunk,” she writes, between her first ride on a new bike and her marathon rides. “While going straight, I was circling, riding back to the person I’d been… All I could do was trust in this machine, that it would do what it said, by its very stalwart existence: take me home.”
By the end, she gets so far this time that she faces the very spectre of death as the ultimate metaphor, the final reality. And yet there’s nothing frightening about this face-down.
“Every ride has the structure of music,” she summarizes, at her own book’s own end. “A theme emerges, then the refrain. In between, there will be a bridge; there will come variations. The tonality, the key, and the tempo are created of the weather, of vibrations, the slant of the sun, the corners, the chip seal or the tar snakes or the new paving. Finally there is a coda. See, in every piece, whether concerto, hymn, or opera, there is beginning, middle, end. This is invariable. Some rides contain melodies you have never heard before…”++
Melissa Holbrook Pierson will read from, The Man Who Would Stop At Nothing: Long Distance Motorcycling’s Endless Road, in a presentation by The Golden Notebook at the Kleinert/James Arts Center, 34 Tinker Street, starting at 3 p.m. Sunday, October 23. For further information call 679-8000, visit www.goldennotebook.com, or www.melissaholbrookpierson.com.