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GROUNDED by Seth Stevenson


A Down to Earth Journey Around the World

by Seth Stevenson

Pub Date: April 6th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59448-442-1
Publisher: Riverhead

An anemic travelogue from a Slate contributor.

To counteract their ennui, Stevenson and his girlfriend decided to travel the globe without the use of air travel. The conceit begins auspiciously but descends quickly into superficiality. Early on, a thick Atlantic fog enshrouds the cargo freighter on which he’s billeted, leaving the author literally sense-deprived. This is boredom made manifest, but Stevenson deftly sketches a redolent scene of wet fog falling against his face and waves slapping the ship’s hull. One evocative sentence, well-timed and piercing, accomplishes what the book as a whole fails to—awakening an almost physical sense of wonder amid monotony. The majority of the narrative reads like a glorified blog, characterized by thin characterizations, superficial observations and glib conclusions. Stevenson is an undisciplined tour guide, prone to snarky parenthetical jabs and unwilling to treat those he meets as fully formed individuals. English-speaking foreigners speak in a belittling dialect when the author bothers to record their dialogue—he eschews interviews for impressions—and even his girlfriend is underdeveloped. The author recounts a journey through a cartoon—bright, noisy and flat, with one flat image continually replaced by the next one. Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia to Antwerp to Tallinn to Fushiki to Beijing to Hanoi to Bangkok to Singapore to Brisbane to Los Angeles—small wonder that at the book’s conclusion, Stevenson is back where he began, in an apartment lease, back at the same bars and restaurants, stupefied by routine and comfort. He never really left.

A limitless world squeezed through a limited scope. Disappointing.