Barry Yourgrau has always put his own peculiar spin on sudden fiction. His short bursts of prose are as compact as Zen koans and possess the eeriness of detective stories spliced with dreams. In Haunted Traveller: An Imaginary Memoir, an unnamed narrator (who may or may not be Yourgrau himself) recounts various adventures in 44 thematically linked stories. Meandering by boat, foot, plane, soap bubble, and armchair, our traveler finds himself strikingly out of place among the natives of various lands. He does his best to adapt to the cultures of each region, removing his teeth to ward off evil spirits, booking passage on a tramp steamer with a crew of cross-dressing revolutionaries, and enjoying a variety of amorous entanglements along the way. Yourgrau is at his most winning when his traveler's internal disorientation fits hand-in-glove with his outlandish surroundings, as in this passage, where he finds himself decapitated in a dream: |
Bizarrely, I catch a glimpse of myself in a gilded mirror: a headless, traumatized figure in gore-rimmed torn pajamas, drink in hand, floating the lamest of bon mots at a crowd of swank, grotesquely ignorant party-goers--in a warm, sumptuous paradise of a room, amid ornate carpets and polished things gleaming in lamplight. The metaphor is so calamitously apt to my life, so cruel, I almost sob with sputtering laughter at myself.
What separates Barry Yourgrau from the surrealist-of-the-month club is the close attention he pays to emotional as well as physical landscapes. There's a subtle feeling driving these stories, something between the thrill of discovery and fear of the unknown. Ultimately, it's this combination that keeps Haunted Traveller so compelling once the journey's over.
Source: Ryan Boudinot, Amazon.com.