Sunday, January 18, 2009

Vacation by Deb Olin Unferth (a review)

4 out of 5: Vacation is the hilarious account of a husband on a journey to save his marriage. Myers knows something odd is going on with his wife, and to solve the mystery he's forced to take a vacation to seek answers even though he has no idea what he's looking for or where he's going. In its own distinctive style, Vacation bears witness to a raw and irrepressible human spirit.

Unferth is a genius at crafting perfect (and perfectly unusual) sentences. Each page is a treat. This excerpt, in which Myers describes what happens to the accumulated stuff when a couple breaks up, illustrates this story's unique blend of melancholy and humor:

There were also the mirrors, the photos, and other inaccurate reflections. The razor, the bathtub. The kids and the dog, although they had none. The idea of dog, that. The possibility of dog that now would not be possible. Her mother, or her mother's dislike of him, who would get that? Surely that would come with him. Along with the rooster clock that she loved, that he hated, that she bought when she started to hate him.
Images of drowning are prevalent throughout Vacation, and Unferth masterfully transforms these desperate images into events of great beauty:

A man struggling in water looks somewhat like the inside of a jewel box or a crystal. The tiny bubbles shine whitely and sparkle. The more the man thrashes, the more it seems that gems and bits of silver and pearl are falling around him, as if he were caught inside a heavy opera costume, as if he were crashing through the stained glass of a cathedral, as if he were wrapped in air and light.
Unfortunately, the primary story is disrupted by a sideshow involving a daughter seeking her dolphin-trainer father. This subplot is never resolved and becomes an unwanted distraction that should have been deleted during the editing process. Despite this imperfection, Vacation is entirely charming and well worth reading.

1 comment:

Anna van Gelderen said...

This sounds like a really interesting novel. I've put it on my wishlist.