BUILD THE PERFECT BEAST

Mark Christensen, Author . St. Martin's/Dunne $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-312-26873-2

A writer, a physician and a designer team up to create "the greatest car in the world" in this testosterone-fueled paean to individual genius and America's fascination with automobiles. Christensen receives an offer of $100,000 from his physician friend Gideon Bosker to help build his dream car, and Christensen convinces Nick Pugh, "America's best young car designer," to join the project. Pugh quickly emerges as the book's dominant character: intense and uncompromising, he is a bizarre hybrid of Picasso, Eminem and Ayn Rand's Howard Roark. It's largely Pugh's vision that keeps the quest alive through years of frustration, fund-raising and fantastical detours (including an ill-fated attempt to power the car using a secret hydrogen-compound formula). After nearly a decade, the trio finally succeeds in building a shocking, mobile work of art called the Xeno III. And what is done with this "steel hallucination," this "captured UFO," once it is finished? It's kept in a garage in southern California—and is rarely driven. As frustrating as this anticlimax is, however, it's the least of the book's problems. More troublesome is Christensen's lack of focus and discrimination. Seemingly everything from his own life during this period went into the narrative, from his visit to a Lollapalooza concert to his difficulties publishing a novel. On the positive side, Christensen knows his probable audience well and maintains a suitably aggressive, masculine tone throughout. His description of vomiting after too much beer and pizza may win over some readers, but for most, such delights will not be enough. 16-page color photo insert not seen by PW. (Nov. 16)

Forecast: St. Martin's will need more than gasoline to get this title moving; its only chance is niche marketing and publicity to old-school techies and race car buffs.

Reviewed on: 11/05/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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