Review: HARDBARNED! by Christopher J. Driver


In Hardbarned!: One Man’s Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South, an amusing and insightful memoir by Christopher J. Driver, readers are invited to commiserate with a hardworking American in a tough world, trying to pursue the happiness of writing over potential riches doing anything else.

Before this book was born, Driver spent years staring down some of the hardest questions of the last generation, namely: What am I supposed to do with this degree? What do I want to do with my life? Am I ever going to find a job that makes me happy? While these questions are far from unique to this generation, or any other, the tone of the writing and the contemporary nature of this book make it all the more powerful. Driver scribbles with a clear passion, and readers are lucky that he persevered through the events of this book to become the writer he is today.

This tale could be told a thousand ways from a million perspectives, but Driver has successfully straddled the world of both blue- and white-collar work, seeing the concept of comfort and wealth from both side of the proverbial fence. This memoir leans a bit more toward his rugged work in the South, specifically lugging portable storage barns across wide swaths of empty miles, but the mind of the man writing these words has not been locked in a blue-collar universe. Between the humorous encounters, whirlwind romances and long nights in lonely towns, there is deep musing and philosophical examinations of what it means to do something meaningful – both for yourself and society on the whole.

What makes Driver such an interesting and sympathetic narrator is he is someone who can clearly kick it with cowboys and mingle with executives; he’s a chameleon, a wanderer, and a bard all rolled into one. The narrative is more sophisticated than the cover might suggest, so this is definitely a book you shouldn’t judge by its cover. With the energy of Kerouac, Hardbarned! is bursting with life and sincere experience, and while Driver may not possess the manic energy and society-shifting power of the Beats in his prose, Driver certainly has the capacity to inspire introspection.

The writing itself is rough around the edges, evidence of both the style and subject matter of the memoir, but it isn’t sloppy or unpolished. There is a natural cadence and flow to the language, like a casual conversation over a cold beer. None of the anecdotes seem forced, and while the order and speed do jump around a bit, it makes for an interesting exploration of Driver’s memories. Some of the attempts at colloquial language, particularly during dialogue sections, seem a bit heavy-handed or forced, but generally the prose is realistic and relatable.

From youthful dreams to adult realities, Hardbarned! provides a good long look at the author, and asks important questions about work, life, happiness, and the American Dream that will be useful to anyone trying to navigate the working life.

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HARDBARNED! One Man's Quest for Meaningful Work in the American South