At first glance, the subject matter contained within Mathew Sturtevant’s THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FEAR may appear cut and dry. After all, the book’s cover features a photo of the road-weary writer posing beside a dirt-speckled motorcycle, an open-trail pouring into a snow-peaked background. But as the adage goes, you can rarely judge a book by its cover (though we’re all guilty of doing just that from time to time). Billed as a “motorcycle adventure eight years in the making,” THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FEAR chronicles Sturtevant’s ongoing battle with both himself and the outside world.
Mathew Sturtevant wasn’t always consumed with fear. At one point, he resided in Austin, Texas, where he made a living as a photographer, immersed himself in the city’s thriving music scene, and even wrote a critically-acclaimed book. As the years passed, however, festering anxiety coupled with a crippling case of agoraphobia began to take hold, eventually invading nearly every aspect of Sturtevant’s life. When his situation finally came to a head, Sturtevant decided to take to the trails, or, more specifically, the Trans American Trail. In the wake of divorce, alcoholism, and a myriad of mental health challenges, Sturtevant traversed some six thousand miles of dirt trails and roads on his trusty motorcycle. Along the way, he faced each and every fear. Composed of short, occasionally droll journal entries arranged in a somewhat chronological order, THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FEAR is a surprisingly addictive read. Sometimes nerve-racking, always funny, Sturtevant’s stories paint a vivid picture of a desperate man with nothing to lose. For instance, in an attempt to conquer his fear of flying, Sturtevant utilizes a rather unorthodox approach that will likely leave many readers shaking their heads in disbelief.
With a resume that includes publication in The New York Times, Sturtevant clearly has the credentials to pen a compelling tale, but it’s his consistent use of humor that comes as a welcome surprise. Addiction and divorce are far from laughing matters, but with a heavy reliance on his self-effacing wit, Sturtevant sidesteps blame and wallowing in favor of accountability. Additionally, his candid prose makes for an intimate read throughout, one where spiritual highs are balanced with pedestrian observations. There’s an undeniably universal undercurrent to Sturtevant’s many fears. After all, who hasn’t felt an unexpected surge of anxiety at the most inconvenient of times? While THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FEAR is, first and foremost, an open-road adventure, Sturtevant’s narrative has a strong, defined arc. The book begins at the proverbial bottom, but by chapter twenty-one, the author has found a sense of peace by way of his eventual life partner, Gabriella. From there, the two spend the third act riding out the COVID pandemic on their bikes, slowly falling for each other. Many a writer has set out to chronicle an epic journey, but few have done so with the humor and candor that Sturtevant offers.
Somewhere between timeless adventure (Kerouac’s On The Road) and tortured sojourn (Neal Peart’s Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road), there exists THE TOPOGRAPHY OF FEAR, a humor-laced tale that blurs the line between travel-adventure and soul-searching memoir.
~James Weiskittel for IndieReader