Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Father Joe's Big Three

Father Joe told us on Kairos that there are three main questions one must answer sequentially in their lives: “Who am I, where am I going, and who am I going there with?” Now I am usually skeptical of autobiographies. Introspection is an inexact science, and in my experience many writers, when forced to come to a conclusion on this first question, “Who am I?” often generalize until they have essentially created a character out of themselves (one that, not surprisingly, is a lot more interesting than if someone else had written an biography). Also working against Liz is the fact that she is still relatively young (36 when this was published), younger than the age many psychologists feel full maturity has been reached. She even admits on page 75 that her maturity may have been stunted by a chain of messy relationships starting in her adolescence, an indication that she attempts to answer, “Who am I going there with?” long before she answers the first two questions. Now you may understand my suspicion when I realized that she was actually attempting to answer all three questions in one fell swoop, in her travel logs. Oh yeah, she also desperately needed to write this book after she received the advance for it that funded her time abroad.

The fact that I am not loathing this book should be a testament to her skill as a humorous writer. Perhaps it’s my appreciation for relentless self-deprecation that makes me enjoy her work, alongside however many other million Americans who are enjoying it simply because Oprah told them to. She dexterously avoids me flying into a rage at her self-pity with this humor. Hearing a person complain about how depressed and lonely she was in Italy, a country I would kill to have visited, normally would make me punch kittens. However, she deftly personifies Depression and Loneliness and making them seem like that self-righteous loser that bummed loose leaf off you every day before class (and had no plans to buy a pack himself). I ended up applauding her. Normally, a writer tends to over-romanticize the adventure in their travels. Liz chooses to remind us how unsuited she was for them: she sticks out like a sore thumb, does not appreciate museums, and gets outrageously sick from foreign fare. She even relaxes the tedious cliché of a personal quest for spirituality, by turning her inner journey into a series of relatively relatable conversations with her God.

In short, I have no idea whether she will find a believable conclusion to Father Joe’s three questions by the end of this book. Maybe the ending will make me throw the book and chew up my roommate’s slippers in a puppy-like temper tantrum. However, thanks to her humor, at least I will be entertained along the way. I could only wish that if I was ever hard-up for travel money I would be able to write half as well as she can.

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