“I feel like I’m stuck in a mystery novel written by an unhinged individual, Amy.”
There's a lot of truth to that lament Nathan makes to his girlfriend, Amy. In the same conversation, she had a different take on it:
“Mystery Englishmen? Ever-evolving eccentric casts of characters? Intricate layers of plot involving absolutely nothing? Two unaware and wayward employees leading the story? Nathan, you are living in a Wes Anderson film. And I’m not sure if I like it. You’re definitely more Life Aquatic than Rushmore at this point.”
There's a lot truth to that, too. At the same time, neither of them is quite right (and please, don't go looking for a Wes Anderson/unhinged mystery writer kind of book, you won't get it. But you may get something that appeals to someone who'd like that kind of book). Just these commentaries on Nathan's life during this novel shows you just how strange this is.
I don't want to say there isn't a plot -- there is one; nor do I want to say that it's not important, or nonsensical -- there is a good amount of sense and it is a pretty good story; but compared to the experience of spending time with Nathan, his friends and colleagues, as well as those he meets over the course of the novel outweighs the story.
You've got Nathan; his girlfriend, Amy; his boss Dr. Behr, an elderly gentleman who just might be the living incarnation of "eccentric"; his coworker, Edward, who has spent far too many years working for Dr. Behr; and Nathan's neighbor, who seems to do little other than use recreational pharmaceuticals. Throw in the study of a beatnik novelist of dubious quality, the attempted illegal eviction of a young woman, and some strange British citizens, and then step back and watch the lunacy begin. There's a real estate deal at the core of this -- which allows Falatko to indulge his fixation on NYC rental properties (and seals my conviction that I'll never move there) -- the sheer number of things that are wrong with the deal and that can go wrong with it. And here we are, proof that I can't talk about this book in a way that makes a whole lot of sense.
This is a funny book, but not a comedy. It's absurd in the best sense. It's a wild ride, with a very human -- and relatable center. Relatable might not be the best word, because I can't imagine that any reader will have an experience like it. But even at the strangest moments, you'll find yourself nodding with Nathan's actions and reactions, saying to yourself, "yeah, I can see why he'd do that." Even the conclusion that the plot careens to -- for most of the book you'd say that wouldn't work at all, but by the time it happens, it seems pretty perfect.
The illustrations are a nice touch -- I don't know that I needed them, and I don't know that they really added all that much. At the same time, I enjoyed them. At what point was it decided that only kids could use a picture every now and then in their books?
I wasn't a fan of Falatko's previous novel, Condominium, but I thought it did display an element of talent. Travels and Travails put a lot more on display, and kept me entertained and engaged (and frequently smiling) throughout the novel. Although, I should note that I also spent a good deal of time wondering what I'd just read and why -- but I was having such a good time that I really didn't care about the answers to those questions. You won't read many books like this one, but you'll wish you could.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinion and participation in this book tour. I just wish I had something more coherent to say about it.