Fiction Friday: Better Here Than There by Alex Snider

For those of us who long for the days of summer so we can switch up complaining about the cold to complaining about the heat I've come up with a lil' list of books about vacations gone horribly horribly wrong that will sate your desire for mojitoes on the beach (mostly).

Going Down by David Markson -- Although more of an extended vacation, three Americans spend their days frolicking, fornicating and fighting in a small Mexican town filled with artists before one is killed and a newcomer tries to get to the bottom of things. Surreal and sultry and super sexxxy.

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry -- Again, ex-pats in Mexico and death and existentialism, takes place over the course of 24 hours and deals with the big three: Love, Death and Alcoholism! Fun! The amazing thing is that the three main characters are actually likable, curious for American mid-century novels. Unfortunately, that makes reading about the downward spiral all the more painful. Get used to seeing this baby in Friday Fiction because I will not rest until everyone is bummed out after finishing it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles -- Ah, the traveller vs. the vacationer trope. The traveler abhors the vacationer for their dipping of the toes into culture in comparisons with the traveler's full submersion. Kit and Port are no exception: they are seasoned travelers who spend their time galavanting through North Africa, expounding the amazingness of their lives but then something goes wrong and their experience becomes one of death, adultery, kidnapping, rape, abuse, disease and an overall sense of isolation; midway through, I have no doubt that they begin envying the loathed vacationer. Read it if only to know the meaning of sinister foreshadowing.

Deliverance by James Dickey -- Who's up for a canoe trip! The most amazing thing about this novel of man vs. nature vs. murderous hillbillies is that you might actually still want to take a canoe up through the Appalachians because Dickey's prose is so incredibly lush and vivid, the whole "squeal like a pig" thing is so brief that even the most squeamish could handle it and what's left is just a story of survival and what a human being is capable of in an extreme situation. Great movie but the novel is better by about a thousand dueling banjoes.

Plain Pleasures by Jane Bowles -- There are many reasons to love Jane Bowles, so many that there will be a post dedicated to her in the near future, but her writing definitely comes in first. Plain Pleasures is a short story collection (the only stories she wrote) and the majority deal with travelers and American ex-pats, and hot damn are they great! She is a master of pacing, of obnoxious characters that even their own mothers would hate, of bad timing, of sinister undertones, of the best character description I've ever read: "He disliked Lilina; probably because he suspected intuitively that she was a person who could fall over and over again into the same pile of broken glass and scream just as loudly the last time as the first"(from A Guatemalan Idyll). Bowles showed her characters no mercy, and the best part is she sided one hundred percent with the native inhabitants of the land in which her ex-pats and vacationers gracelessly bombard.

Short list but sweet and full of death; suddenly salt-stained boots and wind-chill ain't looking so bad.

Hey, enjoy the weekend, ok? Say hello to your mother for me.

Alex Snider is a Toronto-based writer, a Contributing Editor for the Little Red Umbrella and the co-creator of the Once Again, To Zelda blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. You can read the rest of her posts here.


Post a Comment