A Michigan art-history professor sets off on a journey to see the world’s finest architecture and perhaps forget some of life’s trials in this keen-eyed comic work.
Five months ago, Louie Hake’s second marriage collapsed after his wife, a third-grade teacher and amateur actress, was arrested for “gross indecency” with her director in a Honda Odyssey. Three months ago, Louie learned he had an illness that could lead to blindness. So in June 2018, the 43-year-old “untenured fixture” at a third-rate Michigan college embarks on his own odyssey, "the Journey of His Life," aiming to view great buildings in Italy, Turkey, India, and Japan. But Louie, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 10 years earlier, is sidetracked in ways small and large, perhaps because he has stopped taking his lithium (while still taking Ativan, Wellbutrin, and trazodone). After Rome, he breaks his itinerary and heads to London, site of his first honeymoon, where he almost sleeps with a woman alone on her first honeymoon after being jilted by her fiance but persuaded by the cad's mother (a travel agent!) to take the trip. Following London he seeks out cathedrals of ice among Greenland’s glaciers while staying with strange children and their combative father in a dilapidated inn. Leithauser (The Art Student’s War, 2009, etc.) shifts affectingly from present-day comic encounters and observations to fraught memories (though how reliable sifted through so many meds?), from Louie’s first experience of transcendence at age 9, in the delightful opening, and again in Ely Cathedral, to first love and various brushes with shame and failure. Leithauser, a poet, novelist, and MacArthur Fellow, recalls Stanley Elkin, Wilfrid Sheed, and Richard Ford in this complex anatomy of a midlife crisis and then some.
An exceptional glimpse of the human comedy marked by sometimes dazzling prose.