Impossible Vacation

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Brewster North tells an involving tale of his life. It begins with a charmingly healthy childhood, summering with his parents, grandma, and two brothers on the Rhode Island coast. Sometime during all the pleasure, though, an unbearable angst is bred into Brewster.

Searching for solace, which seems to exist only in the places where he is not, Brewster begins a road trip which carries him from New England to Texas to New York to Amsterdam to India, and then back again to the States, where he describes his descent into mental instability. He sums up his trip in a metaphor: He’s fallen literally from the peaks of the Himalayas to the depths of the Grand Canyon. If there is anything Brewster learns on his travels, it is that he is unfulfilled and incapable of enjoying anything but raw sex, exhibitionism, and beer. These interests he engages in obsessively, for doing things in moderation is a concept foreign to Brewster. In his own words, he is “a full-blown, out-of-control compulsion on the loose.”

It is unfortunate for the reader to be stuck in Brewster’s mind; though his psychoses provide ample entertainment and his quest leads to places and conditions both unfamiliar and interesting to some—drug trips, Zen meditation ceremonies, porno studios, a Las Vegas jail, gay baths, a nude beach, the theater, and an Indian sex commune—Brewster remains a discontent traveler and thus a sour tour guide.

Spalding Gray has succeeded in creating a grim and neurotic, but wildly humorous novel. His maladjusted protagonist will make even the most unsettled reader feel securely grounded by comparison.