Bestselling memoirist Gilman (Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, 2005, etc.) recalls ill-fated post-collegiate travels.
The author’s around-the-world backpacking trip began in September 1986 with a perilous nosedive into Hong Kong’s international airport that prompted Gilman to reflect on her motives. After growing up poor in inner-city New York, she entered Brown University on a scholarship. When she and her friend Claire Van Houten (a pseudonym) set off to circle the globe following graduation, her motivation was more desire to emulate confident, well-heeled Claire than any personal sense of adventure. The two were eager to undertake rugged exploration in the footsteps of their admired predecessors from Odysseus to Jack Kerouac, “except with lip gloss.” They vowed to travel like locals rather than tourists, and the bulk of the book humorously describes their encounters with both squalor and beauty. They ventured headlong into the People’s Republic of China, about which they, and the pre-Internet world at large, had little knowledge. Hindsight allows the author to draw comparisons between her journey into adulthood and the growing pains of the newly opened communist nation. Fans of her previous work will enjoy Gilman’s latest, but there’s little in the way of a story until the final hundred pages, during which the author switches to present tense and her account becomes plot-driven. The tense shift is abrupt, but nothing about the plot trigger—Claire falls ill and has to return home—will come as a surprise, given the heavy-handed clues that have been dropped in advance.
A flawed but ambitious and intimate coming-of-age memoir.