Saturday, December 13, 2008

Intriguing Read: Travel Writing by Peter Ferry

Travel Writing (Harcourt, Inc., $24.00), is a new novel by Peter Ferry, an Evanston, Illinois author/teacher/travel writer. It's a great mind-bending kind of a read, like an Escher painting. I highly recommend it.

The narrator is an English teacher and travel writer named Peter Ferry (hmm...) who is trying to show his students how to tell a story. He tells them an intriguing story (he claims he's making it up off the top of his head) about a woman he saw get killed in a car accident on Lake Shore Drive. He feels guilty because he thinks he could have prevented it. As a reader, you think, wow, this character's a really good teacher; that's a clever way to get your class to practice using their imagination: take a possibly real event and spin a complicated, regretful tale from it.

But then he launches into minute details about the accident and his obsessive interest in the life of the victim, Lisa Kim. The book takes off with several chapters about his creepy investigation into the cause of the accident, and the problems this obsession is having on his relationships. You forget that it all supposedly started "off the top of his head."

Just when you're on a roll with the (real?) story, the narrator takes a break for a segment back in his English class, and he is having a conversation with his students about his fictional love for Lisa Kim. It's like waking up from a vivid dream and realizing none of it ever happened. But then the story advances further, with so much detail that he couldn't be just making it up. So, did it really happen, or is the teacher just using it as a launching point for his imagination?

As the book jacket says, this novel explores the idea that "the line between fact and fiction is negotiable." It's a clever premise, and the mystery is a compelling page-turner. And if the plot isn't disturbing and intriguing enough, there is the dedication page: to Lisa Kim. I have this creepy feeling that if I googled Lisa Kim I'd find her obituary. Read the book and then post your thoughts. It's so weird you can't just put it down and forget about it!

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