I thoroughly enjoyed Raymond's slender new book of eight short travel stories. Each piece is about a modern day individual going through a personal transition of one sort or another; the fact that they're set in a wide range of locations all over the planet is icing on the cake. Characters vary widely, including a scientist on a grant doing field research, a young nanny on a long-term job with a wealthy family, and a woman on safari with her husband in the Serengeti. Some are married, some single; all are flawed, like the rest of us. Unfettered by their regular lives, the characters are able to experience previously unacknowledged sides of themselves in new, unfamiliar territory. Super writing with a lot of nuanced complexity - I hope to see more of her work in the future.
"Well," I say, "I guess we have something in common after all." (pg. 15)
This collection of short stories begins with First Sunday, where Mel is visiting her sister Cheryl in Tonga, mostly to escape the fall-out from her departure from a previous employer. Mel has a brief love affair with a local man, much to Cheryl's horror, and though the sisters live very different lives, Mel discovers some similarities that surprise her. In Translation Memory, Dan and Julie spend most of the story in Japan, and a pivotal visit to a Buddhist temple helps the couple mourn in different ways a decision to remain childless. In The Ecstatic Cry, Deb and Thom are scientists doing research on penguins in Antarctica. When Thom is called away on an emergency, Deb thinks she is alone with her research subjects when a tourist from an earlier visiting cruise ship is left behind accidentally, or possibly not. The Road to Hana is interesting in that the story appears to be about Sue absconding with a classmate's ring more than 20 years earlier, and her husband Ethan's reaction to her telling him about the ring, but seemed to me to be more about what comes around, goes around. In Forgetting English, we meet Paige in Taiwan, an American running away from home and ghosts from her past, who tries to learn the local language and connect with a fellow teacher, and in Rest of the World, the narrator, who spends the entire story away from home on business trips, reflects on just how that has affected her personal life. Beyond the Kopjes tells us about Dana, and her restless, sleepless life while on a safari in Tanzania, and in Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean, Karey is a nanny/actress vacationing with her employers and their children in Maui when she meets Cody, a surf bum, and tries to make sense of her young life. I would like if some of these stories were longer, in say, novel form. Beyond the Kopjes and Forgetting English could potentially be expanded upon, as Ms. Raymond certainly knows her way around a story.
"She found something strangely exotic in the telling, or rather just before the telling – in the promise of having a story, one that had nothing to do with their daughters and their tennis and softball schedules or with the school board."