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Travel Guides for Trips You Don´t Want to Take

February 18, 2009 by Reader's Connection

Here are three novels in which characters take journeys. They are sometimes moved by situations they can´t control, and in the course of moving geographically they are all moved inwardly. My title is a little misleading, because you might want to visit Uruguay or Key West–just not under these circumstances.

An Imaginary Life by David Malouf

An Imaginary LifeIn 8 AD, the Roman poet Ovid was banished to Tomis, on the Black Sea. According to The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, “Tomis, a superficially Hellinized town with a wretched climate on the extreme edge of the empire, was a singularly cruel place in which to abandon Rome’s most urbane poet.” To judge by Ovid’s descriptions in this novel, the town is hardly a town, let alone Hellenized.

He tells of his existence in this wilderness, and then of a feral child whom he adopts. The author most famous for describing Metamorphoses now watches his adoptee’s transformation–and goes through a metamorphosis himself.


The City of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron 

 The City of Your Final Destination Omar Razaghi isn’t banished from the University of Kansas to Uruguay, but his trip is an awkward one. He wants to write a biography of the deceased author Jules Gund, and has been awarded a fellowship–but the executors of the Gund estate won’t authorize the bio.

In order to avoid losing the fellowship and ruining his career, he travels unannounced to Uruguay, where Gund’s brother, wife, and mistress live together. (“That must be cozy,” as Omar’s girl friend says.)

Physical injuries occur, as well as great emotional shifts. This is a wonderfully satisfying novel, with the characters reaching unplanned destinations by unforeseen means; and I don’t know why it wasn’t more of a hit.


The Last Resort by Alison Lurie 

TITLE Aging naturalist Willie Walker is depressed and feels unwell. His supportive, much younger wife Jenny, not knowing what to do with him, suggests that they winter in Key West.

She’s glad when he agrees, but she doesn’t know that Willie thinks of Key West as the perfect place to commit suicide or that she herself is due for emotional upheaval.

There is always a lot of humor in Lurie’s novels, so don’t let the suicide threat scare you. She has too much fun with Willie’s self-pity and emotional blindness to ever allow him to bump himself off.


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