Indie Reader ****

Preparing to be unprepared for surprises in AUTOFLICK: A Study of Whales and Cigarettes That Became a Novel

By John R. Bancroft

Rating: 4 stars

IR Verdict: AUTOFLICK is a quirky tale with fully realized characters that delivers all of the emotional punch you expect from a good literary novel.

Book Reviews, Fiction, Literary Fiction  •  Sep 02, 2016

"AUTO FLICK has plenty going for it, and the book's final stretch is definitely worth the wait. "

Izzy, a perpetually-unprepared Boy Scout, tags along on his father’s madcap study of people who toss cigarette butts from their cars in John R. Bancroft’s coming-of-age story, AUTOFLICK: A Study of Whales and Cigarettes That Became a Novel.

“Be prepared” is more than just a motto for many who have gone through the Boy Scouts–it can be a way of life. AUTOFLICK neatly demonstrates the near futility of this kind of dedicated preparedness. The universe, after all, has a way of showing people how little it cares about their plans—something that Izzy, a 16-year old not quite Eagle Scout, is reminded of constantly. It is in the long ago summer of 1968 that Izzy joins his father, Speedy–an atheist and a Herman Melville enthusiast (hence, the reference to “Whales” in the title)–in his bizarre study of people who toss cigarettes from cars.

But while Izzy is often surprised by events like being passed a joint in a car full of hippies, the story is initially held back by a lack of meaningful conflict. There are suspicions of dissention sprinkled in, but, with the exception of spending time with his first girlfriend, Julianna, and interacting with an enigmatic investor who takes an interest in him—nothing truly life-changing happens to Izzy until well after the novel’s half-way point. The repeated confrontations that Speedy and Izzy have with cigarette tossers are a microcosm of this issue, because after awhile you begin to expect that one of their test subjects is going to fly off the handle and throw a punch, particularly after Speedy gets the brilliant idea to slap bumper stickers that read “I flick butts” on their cars. But it never actually happens. It feels like a fight is coming on a few different occasions, but, like much of the potential clashes in this tale, it fizzles out before things get truly interesting.

AUTOFLICK has plenty going for it, and the book’s final stretch is definitely worth the wait. The narration is amusing throughout, and Bancroft has a true knack for description, such as his likening of Speedy’s 1955 DeSoto to “a mastodon plodding toward extinction.” The time spent getting to know Izzy and his father early on ultimately makes the story’s final act all the more satisfying.

~Dan Kelley for IndieReader.