A veteran author of novels, poetry and essays examines her deep ambivalence about the value of travel—and connects it to the publication of her most recent novel (The Writing on the Wall, 2005).
Schwartz’s account begins in confusion in the early morning darkness in a hotel on the Greek island of Naxos. It ends with a sort of epiphany—a way to complete a story begun decades ago as a seventh grader, which became a novel about twins that she had returned to but abandoned on earlier occasions. In between, Schwartz moves about like a nervous traveler with an uncertain but engaging itinerary. So swiftly and gracefully do her paragraphs flow into one another that we are unbothered by jumping around to Jamaica, Rome, St. Louis, the Catskills, Hawaii and a fancy Boston hotel room plagued by a mouse. Schwartz says she’s never liked to travel—despite her girlhood fantasies about upscale hotels with alacritous bellhops—because she doesn’t like to feel ignorant, fearful or disrupted; she prefers familiar surroundings and the voyages in her mind. She confesses that she is often bored by the travel accounts of others, and suspects she’s not alone. (In some places she forgets this principle with her own overlong anecdotes.) Throughout she alludes to—and quotes generously from—the Tao te Ching and the travel writings of Italo Calvino, W.G. Sebald, Frigyes Karinthy and many others. She writes affectingly about the loss of her father, and wonders if he were somehow related to look-alike Ariel Sharon. She recalls impecunious grad-school days and—most alarmingly—seeing a severed human hand in the Jamaican surf. Looming over all…9/11.
Charmingly idiosyncratic and peripatetic.