In a neat bit of legerdemain, a British literary critic and novelist concocts an existential memoir from a fabric of sideways glances and moments out of time.
There are times, many times, when Dyer (Paris Trance, 1999, etc.) approaches “a kind of parable, one without any lesson or moral, a parable from which it would be impossible to learn anything or draw any conclusions,” when you have to hold it obliquely and read it askance, finding its importance in the marginalia, all that glitters on the verge. And you have to be quick about it, because he keeps on the move: Detroit to Cambodia, New Orleans to Paris, Amsterdam, and Rome. He is adrift, distracted, agitated: “As soon as I had sat down, I would think, I'll stand up, and then, as soon as I had stood up, I would want to sit down.” In counterpoint to Frank O’Hara, he would work along the lines of “ ‘I did not do this and I did not do that,’ but predictably, I did not do this.” He just wanted to get in the car and drive, but “the only place I really wanted to go was Rome, and I was there already.” But for all the who’s-on-first rigmarole, the plaints of loss and decline, grousing about “the roller-coaster emotions of travel, its surges of exaltation, its troughs of despondency,” Dyer is remarkably active and observant, his attentiveness aided more than once by helpings of mushrooms or marijuana. For all his professed loneliness, he spends plenty of time with women and friends, in amusement and openness, whether it be trying to calm a date who gets royally spooked by the power of his “skunk,” or the clarity enjoyed in Amsterdam when he “unblocked all sorts of café chakras and was experiencing a sense of absolute calm”—or watching Burning Man, engulfed in flames, buckle at the knee, as if “to step free of the fire that defined and claimed him.”
While Dyer may feel he is swimming in custard, his descriptions of his days afloat in foreign landscapes are a compression of jolts that will stir his audience, elementally and disturbingly.