Rootless, aimless and jobless after finishing college, I entertained Hemingway-fueled fantasies of going off to war, finding my way as a freelance war correspondent. In these fantasies, I'd go off to Albania, which I figured was due, file insightful pieces, become famous, and make love to many beautiful women. And I'd "find myself" in the process.
The mundane end to the story, of course, is that I got a job as a music critic in Colorado, Albania didn't erupt into full-fledged war, and with hindsight, I realized that I would have been well out of my depth in such a situation.
But the idea never really lost its romance.
#29: "God Lives in St. Petersburg" by Tom Bissell
The characters in Tom Bissell's short stories share a similar sense of being in over their head. Almost without fail, they're idealistic Westerners who have headed to Central Asia in search of something undefinable.
A gift from PPA reader Coco, the stories were a good quick read on the plane. Mostly bleak portrayals of people losing hope, they aren't romanticized. The losers aren't heroic -- just real, confused people.
The two standouts are the two that break the mold the most: the blackly comic "The Ambassador's Son," and the final story, "Animals In Our Lives" -- which takes the action back to the U.S., and has a painfully real look at a dying relationship. Initially I thought that of all the stories, it failed -- but a day later, it's stuck with me the most.