Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

First-novel journeys to foreign lands

Loose Connections, by Maggie Brooks. New York: St. Martin's/Marek. 173 pp. $11.95. Equal Distance, by Brad Leithauser. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 351 pp. $17.95. A young Englishwoman abroad; a young American man in Japan. The protagonists of these two first novels are making traditional first-novel journeys to foreign lands, discovering new places and people -- and discovering themselves.

At the outset of the comic ``Loose Connections'' we meet Sally, Laurie, and Kay, three English feminists who have built a jeep. Their plan to drive the jeep to a Women's Event in Munich is brought to an abrupt halt by two obstacles that their feminism can't quite overcome: Laurie spectacularly flunks her driving test, and Kay's husband threatens to change the locks if she goes.

About these ads

Facing the trip alone, Sally advertises in the classifieds for a companion, a ``German-speaking woman. Must be mechanically minded driver. Preferably vegetarian. Non-smoker.''

The only person who answers the ad is feckless Harry Hammell, who claims to fulfill all the requirements except, of course, being a woman, but he is sporting a button that announces ``Glad to be gay,'' and therefore his sex won't be a problem. So he says.

And off they go together, upper-middle-class Sally and working-class Harry, their adventures a series of calamities and feuds. Will the jeep survive the journey? Will they?

A movie version of ``Loose Connections'' has a screenplay written by Ms. Brooks.

The hero of ``Equal Distance'' is 23-year-old Danny Ott, who takes a year off from Harvard Law School to work in Kyoto as a research assistant to a Japanese law professor.

Precocious, earnest, a Yuppie-to-be, Danny is filled with good resolves when he arrives in Japan, but when his luggage doesn't arrive along with him, he gets a foretaste of chaos. No sooner is he settled into a snug if lonely routine than he meets charming 28-year-old Greg, a well-traveled American dabbler who lures Danny away from his studies to go play. Next comes a further distraction, another American dabbler, the enigmatic and appealing Carrie. Danny's expatriate experience definitely isn't turning out the way he imagined it.

This is a very first-novel first novel, yet refreshingly so, done with great good humor. The booze flows, and the boozy philosophizing takes place not in time-honored sidewalk caf'es but in public baths and establishments such as the Cowboy Honky Tonk Saloon and the True Time Texas -- and afterward continues over purchases made at a Mister Donut.

About these ads

Bizarre contrasts are ever present and described appreciatively, from the temples equipped with Coca-Cola vending machines to ``an immaculate white heron'' wading in a river, ``picking its way with condescending fastidiousness through the rocks and stranded, colorful garbage.''

Ruth Doan MacDougall, the author of eight novels, reviews first novels for the Monitor.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.