It’s 1984, and Michael Hogan is embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, even if he doesn’t know it.
In Hughes’ (Searching for Paradise, 2015) novel, three friends spontaneously journey to London in search of video production jobs. After only one day of searching with no luck and getting chased out of a library, Mike, Declan, and Luke quickly drop that idea, choosing instead to “make a vacation” out of their troubled luck. The cast sustains this impulsive bent for the duration of the novel, much to the reader’s delight. Decky is the charmer of the group, with a winning, irresistible smile. Luke is a calmer, meditative sort. But Mike, who travels with much less money than his friends, has left America mainly to escape a messy breakup with his neglected girlfriend, Colette, and seems to worry constantly. His financial concerns and his emotional journey offer a welcome anchor to this whimsical coming-of-age–via-travel tale. The group spends a raucous night in London where they argue with a self-proclaimed communist and run from the law. They head to Amsterdam, where Mike butts heads with a snotty, rich college student named Blair, and they narrowly escape a life-threatening situation on their way to the red-light district. Decky leaves the group midway in search of his ancestral roots in Ireland, but Luke and Mike head to Oktoberfest for some sobering discussions of the Holocaust interspersed with scenes of congenial drunkenness. Hughes adds flavor with sketches of other travelers met along the way. Particularly striking is a white South African surfer who dismisses apartheid but reacts with deep feeling to a tour of the Dachau concentration camp. Mike finds himself alone, bouncing between familiar faces and new friends as he explores Greece and Turkey, suffering a particularly brutal ride through the Eastern bloc to arrive in Athens. Throughout it all, Hughes maintains a tension that transforms this meandering tale into one of complex depictions of human compassion.
A charming, soulful entry into a popular (and often disappointing) genre.