Book Review: Pipeliner – White boy 90s Nostalgia


“Krissy pinched a nostril and snorted a big line while Allen held her hair. She came up with her eyes wide, wriggling her nose and blinking a lot. Allen bent over sniffing and then sat back with little change.”

Pipeliner (Locations 1423-1424)

The Plot

From Amazon: For seventeen-year-old Jason Krabb, high school life in 1990s Idaho is a world of cargo shorts, cassette tapes, and junk food. Plagued equally by algebra and puberty, Jason sets out to find a girlfriend and become a rock guitarist. His quest is irreversibly jolted when he attends a bonfire and meets an alluring girl from the other side of town and a rag tag crew who are bringing gas lines through the desert in order to keep the lights on in Portland and Seattle, places where Jason hopes to find his nirvana as a guitarist.

Meanwhile, things deteriorate at home. Jason’s pediatrician mom, Leah, sadly faces the twilight of her parenting years while his father, Curtis, contends with the enormity of running a big ticket research laboratory and coming to terms with his son’s wayward path.

Pipeliner is at once a coming of age love story and a comical timestamp of early 90s family life. Set in the fictional Idaho town of Helen Springs, pop. 58,000, its characters are as vibrant as the lofty peaks and purple sunsets of the high desert. Here we find rich farmers, poor ranchers, dutiful Mormons, government honchos, disgruntled vets, drug-dealing bruisers, irksome teachers, and spirited students, all doing their best to keep the lights on.

Writing Style

Mr Hartje’s style is smooth and uninhibited, which made this a rather quick read. I think the essence of 90s middle America was accurately captured while simultaneously highlighting the pointlessness of teenage speech:

“Stewart’s cool. Though I’ll admit he ain’t the most social guy. You got any brothers?” Jason slowly held up a finger. “Robert’s at Princeton. He’s kinda weird.” Allen frowned and dog scratched his chin. “That’s a shame. A brother’s better than gold. Next chance you get, tell your bro that you got his back.” He pounded his mallet fist against his heart.(Locations 1617-1620)

I didn’t find any issue with the technicality of the writing: grammar, spelling, syntax, etc. Plot holes weren’t a problem either. All-in-all, this was a solid offering. There were far too many song reference though, it felt contrive and didn’t fit the narrative at times. I could see that the music was meant to be intertwined with what was happening in each scene but at the end of it, it almost seemed pretentious and a little too “put on”.

The Review

There was something missing and I simply cannot put my finger on it. This book was by no means terrible, especially when compared to some of the other things I’ve reviewed in the past, but it was average. The nostalgia was definitely there and I had moment where I spaced out and remembered by first Sony Discman with skip protection (which never actually worked), I remembered going to the CD store and listening to albums before buying them, I conjured up long lost memories of sitting of the garage roof with my brother and just looking at the stars. In this regard, the book faired well but the story itself just didn’t grab me.

Jason was rather irritating and at the end of the day, the entire book simply outlined the banality of everyone’s teenage years. Sure, we all thought that whatever was happening to us between the ages of 13 and 18 was the most important set of events that ever happened to any human being who had ever lived, but as adults we know that everyone’s teen years were pretty much the same when you came from a middle-class, mostly white background. And I think that this was were I disconnected. Born to a non-white family at the end of South Africa’s Apartheid era means I didn’t got to beach bonfires, stay out after dark or watch Party of 5, Melrose Place or Dawson’s Creek. I would like to make it very clear that this is not the book’s fault, it just means that this is for a very specific audience.

I liked that Jason wants to forge his own path and that this path may not be what his parents envisioned for him. This is something that many teens can relate to and that many adults remember vividly from their formative years.

My rating: 3½/5

This review was requested by the author.

Buy Pipeliner on Amazon.

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