When Alexander Chee’s father died at the age of 43 he didn’t leave a will. Instead, his estate was divided evenly among his wife and three children. When he turned 18, Chee was bequeathed a trust, and the first thing he bought was something he thought his father would want for him — a black Alfa Romeo.

In an essay for BuzzFeed adapted from his forthcoming collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, Chee recounts the nine years he spent spending the inheritance, often prudently — paying for college, grad school, and preparing for a life of the mind — and sometimes impetuously, like the purchase of the fast car his father would have loved.

For those nine years, I felt both invulnerable and doomed, under the protection of a spell that I knew to be dwindling in power. The Alfa broke down finally while I was driving from Iowa to New…

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