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:
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.
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