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Learning to Drive

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Who’s the protagonist of Learning to Drive, the first novel by society columnist and Vogue editor-at-large William Norwich? Why, society columnist and View editor-at-large Julian Orr. Like plenty of publicly fabulous yet privately helpless New Yorkers, Orr can’t drive. But his therapist tells him he must learn how in order to make a cathartic journey back home to Connecticut to visit his parents’ graves. The narrative cuts back and forth between Orr’s ordeal in getting a license and his memories of a lonely boyhood. It’s these lyrical flashbacks — in which we meet his nurturing, rose-planting father, his chic but distant mother, his meddling relatives and weird neighbors — that are the soul of the novel. Less interesting (and less original) is the rendering of Orr’s shallow world of late-’80s fluff journalism. Still, the emptiness of Orr’s adult life is clearly the product of his early losses, and as such it gains a poignancy of its own. A-