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Tim Lott emerged in the UK in Nick Hornby's slipstream, and his early work is often similarly tagged as lad lit, featuring, as it does, men facing up to their responsibilities and "growing up".


Under the Same Stars is the third of his books I've read, following his Whitbread nominated White City Blue and the more recent The Love Secrets of Don JuanOnce again, it features a 40-something man, this time illustrator and aspiring fine artist Salinger Nash. Sal lives with his partner Tiane in a fictional London suburb and keeps his Prozac prescription hidden from her, which tells you something about their relationship.


Sal receives a call from his older brother Carson, whom, apart from a brief encounter at their mother's funeral, he hasn't seen for 20 years. Carson is now resident in post-Katrina New Orleans and tells Sal he has had a missive from their long lost father Henry, who exited their lives when the boys were 14 and 10, deserting their mother for the USA. Henry is apparently living is Las Cruces, New Mexico, and is dying. Carson suggests to Sal they set out to see their father one last time. Tiane initially encourages the reluctant Salinger, but at the airport, mysteriously becomes distant and he leaves wondering what their future together holds.


It is a promising premise for a road trip novel, and Under the Same Stars is very readable, although let down by some credibility issues. For example, we are asked to believe Carson has totally reinvented himself as an American, even down to his born again Christian faith. I guess there are British people like Carson out there, but I suspect they are very few and far between. Lott has to do this, however, in order to create several set pieces to highlight cultural differences, such as their visits to various southern eating establishments.


And this is the novel's other flaw: it does largely feel like a series of familiar set pieces, albeit well executed ones. The brothers couldn't be more contrasting personalities. Sal manages to lose Carson's car keys, and his beloved Lexus is stolen and then found by a grouchy Texas cop who, of course, has a heart of gold, and drives it all the way to New Mexico so they can be reunited with it. Sal also has an encounter with a Native American medicine woman which is, of course, a revelation to him.


Where Lott does to an extent break with convention is at the novel's climax, although some elements of its coda then rather spoil things again. I won't trouble you here with what these events are.


This, sadly, is a flawed novel from a writer who I know can do a lot better.





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