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Review: ‘The Glimpse Traveler’ by Marianne Boruch

Review: ‘The Glimpse Traveler’ by Marianne Boruch post image

Title: The Glimpse Traveler
Author: Marianne Boruch
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2011
Acquired: From the publisher, Indiana University Press, for review as part of a book tour.
Rating: ★★★☆☆

Publisher Summary: When she joins a pair of hitchhikers on a trip to California, a young Midwestern woman embarks on a journey about memory and knowledge, beauty and realization. This true story, set in 1971, recounts a fateful, nine-day trip into the American counterculture that begins on a whim and quickly becomes a mission to unravel a tragic mystery. The narrator’s path leads her to Berkeley, San Francisco, Mill Valley, Big Sur, and finally to an abandoned resort motel, now become a down-on-its-luck commune in the desert of southern Colorado.

Review: The Glimpse Traveler is one of those stories about an unexpected adventure with unexpected people that seems to only happen when you’re young (or if you’re a career hippie). I’ve had a couple of these in my life, although none of them even compare to the epic road trip Marianne Boruch found herself on during a spring break trip in 1971 that she writes about in The Glimpse Traveler.

Uncoupled and curious, Marianne is a relatively unobtrusive narrator in the book. The story seems more about her companions, the road, and the experience of being young and traveling than it is about any major personal revelations or traumas. I liked that about this book — it was more a memoir of place and time than it was about the author, keeping it from falling over the line from interesting to self-involved.

I also enjoyed that the book had a distinctive writing style. Boruch is a poet and English professor, so she has a beautiful way with words. One of my favorite chapters was one where she just listed all of the things she was bringing with her (reminiscent of Tim O’Brien’s short story “The Things They Carried,” I think). I love the way the things we carry can say a lot about us, as this case does:

What I took:

Ten bucks.

Two blank checks, folded down to razorblade dimension. I had a whopping $200 or so, saved in the bank. …

My University of Illinois ID, my driver’s permit. The address and phone number of my mother, faraway elsewhere, peacefully oblivious, her usual state regarding my antics since she dropped me at my freshman dorm saying: You’re going to do things I never would — just don’t tell me. As for Jack — should I write down his number too? Did I really want him called by some cop, some hospital clerk? After all, this was for emergencies, a phone number they’d find on me.

One other style thing — Boruch never uses quotation marks. While this was initially a little odd, I think it was actually a very subtle and clever way of pointing to a theme of the book, the fallibly and inconsistency of memory. Leaving out quotation marks is a gentle way of admitting she can’t remember the dialogue as it exactly happened, but this is a best approximation.

It feels weird to give the book three stars when I can’t think of anything specifically I wanted to critique about it. I think though, as a whole, the book didn’t wow me in the way some other four- and five-star reads have. I liked it, I’m glad I read it, but it just didn’t hit me enough to move it from a good book to a great or amazing book. However, people who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s or who connect more with the unraveling of the tragic mystery noted in the summary might love the book more.

Other Reviews: she reads and reads |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Trisha August 8, 2011, 8:13 am

    Sometimes I am sad that that part of my life is over, the part where I could just up and go, leaving responsibility behind. Other days I look forward to retirement when that part comes right around again. 🙂

    • Kim August 9, 2011, 8:18 am

      I sometimes miss that too, and I’m not even that far past it! I think maybe I didn’t spend enough time when I was in college just having adventures, and now I want to have them now.

  • Amy August 8, 2011, 10:08 am

    This sounds like a captivating and absorbing book to me. I think I’ll wish I could relive some of my early 20s if and when I read this but I’m ntersted in what the author takes away from such a momentous trip and what she remembers clearly about those days. Even if the books isn’t an amazing read, a good book is a good book and worth reading! Thanks for an honest & enjoyable review!

    • Kim August 9, 2011, 8:19 am

      I liked the way the author explored what she did and didn’t remember, and what that meant about the trip for her. I like that question being played around with in memoirs.

  • avisannschild August 8, 2011, 10:12 am

    I just reviewed this book yesterday (here) and I loved it. I like what you said about the lack of quotation marks — I hadn’t really thought of it that way. I was amazed at how she was able to recreate this trip from memory nearly 40 years later: how I felt like I was right there with her and yet she is also aware of the fallibility of memory (as you put it) and muses on that too, which I really liked.

    I will link to your review in mine (and I’d be happy for you to do the same)!

    • Kim August 9, 2011, 8:31 am

      I was pretty amazed by that too — it’s a lot of details from a trip I’m sure she didn’t take notes on or anything 🙂 I’ll put a link to your review up right away, thanks!

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) August 8, 2011, 4:36 pm

    The book sounds interesting to me, but the lack of quotation marks would probably drive me crazy.

    • Kim August 9, 2011, 8:32 am

      It was a little odd at first, but after I figured out why I thought she was doing it, it didn’t bother me anymore.

      • avisannschild August 9, 2011, 8:44 am

        Kathy, I generally hate lack of quotation marks, but for some reason it didn’t bother me in this book. It only happened once that I wasn’t 100% sure whether something had been said aloud. Like Kim said, it worked in the context of this book — and I hadn’t even thought of it from the perspective that she obviously couldn’t remember exactly what anyone had said nearly 40 years ago!

  • Care August 9, 2011, 5:19 am

    Nothing at all wrong about a solid 3 star out of 5 rating, imo.

    • Kim August 9, 2011, 8:32 am

      Me either, I give a lot of good books a 3 star rating. I save 4 and 5 for book that really blow me away in some capacity.

  • Clinton August 14, 2011, 3:00 pm

    The endless TBR list grows [sigh]. I agree with Care, a solid 3 out of 5 star rating is where an I’m-glad-I-read-it book should be. I’ve thought a lot about ratings recently, and how rated objects often get rated higher than they should (for instance, 2 Buck Chuck Cabernet, 80 pts on a 100 pt scale – seriously? – possibly a 51 since it isn’t vinegar). Are inflated ratings a result of an American education system where the majority of students in a class get an A or B, when, truly, 50% should get a C, 20% a B or D and 5% an A or F? Even on Goodreads, it is rare to see a book score less than a 3.0 average rating. Anyway, maybe a future question to address. But I like your honest treatment of how you related to the novel.

    • Kim August 15, 2011, 7:13 pm

      Ratings can be so complicated, in part because they can mean different things to different people. I tend to give good books three stars, but I’ve had comments saying too bad it was only three stars, not higher. I just want to yell, “There’s nothing wrong with that!” I’ve also given books two stars and had someone comment it was harsh, which isn’t necessarily true either. In any case, ratings tend to give me a strange anxiety and I’m not sure how I feel about them. I guess I just always hope people will read the review to get a sense of what the rating means and reflects.