“Stories for the EasyJet generation” blazons the message on the front cover.
Love Sex Travel Musik
By Rodge Glass
Freight Books, 217pp, £8.99
Product placement? Generic shorthand for budget travel? Or, given the cover pic of a traveller, exhausted and half-asleep in an airport concourse, suspended in limbo, perhaps the message to the reader is less than propitious for any airline seeking subliminal preferment.
Fear not – Rodge Glass’s 21 tales are ready for take off to selected international destinations. Reader, prepare to hit the gate running, strap yourself in and await the bumps, the vertiginous take-off, aerial limbo, high suspense, plus in-flight, trolley-borne heavy snacks with their flavours of loneliness, dissatisfaction insecurity, anxious laughter, thoughtless selfishness, some laced with flashes of distraction, fantasy, and hope.
The tales are separated by mirror-image photographs, some bizarre, some absurdly comical, others are location shots of places the so-called “EasyJet generation” might make a bee-line for. All the pictures (in black and white) are sufficiently striking to warrant perusing. The EasyJet logo is a presence (in quadruplicate) in one of them, just as mention of the airline crops up in one of Glass’s stories. Unintended consequence, or job done?
The stories are linked by the theme of travel — real or fantasy forays abroad — from a lads-only blitzkrieg of bars and nightclubs in a former eastern-bloc state, to a prim, almost scholarly tour of Denmark’s Tivoli Gardens, replete with footnotes, before the tale takes a tastier turn. Glass transports us to destinations which EasyJet hasn’t yet dreamt of reaching.: downtown Toronto, seedy Hong Kong, an eco-camp in the Amazon, a trail through byways of Uruguay, paying homage to its football culture’s past glories.
Sometimes scenery is evoked as though it is central to the unfolding of the narrative and the pleasure of the reader. More often the characters take centre stage. Glass’s use of first-person narrative offers a voice-style that is both confessional and relaxed:
“Lying outside… after that meal, the North Star spinning above me, I considered hooking up with a local girl and never going home. Then a car nearly ran me over…” confides the unemployed loser husband in the collection’s opening gambit, “A Weekend of Freedom”. He is connected to the narrators in subsequent stories by his pervading sense of loneliness in his struggle to be happy.
“Intervention” portrays a husband confronting the debris of his failed marriage wishing punishment on himself. In “I Know My Team and I Shall Not Be Moved” we witness a daughter’s view of her father’s bumbling decline in a Jewish care home amidst fellow victims of wartime atrocity.
The daughter’s plight – unmarried, unappreciated, castigated – becomes the tale’s true heartland, and, without strain summons up both fortitude and forlornness in one of the book’s most moving moments.
It runs counter to those stories (the majority) which illustrate the idea that discount travel has altered the way we live today – without necessarily changing our outlook, or the attention we pay to our newly accessible world. “Orientation 2” provides a view of a Rome rife with protests about the current war in Syria. “By check-out time tomorrow morning these images will be memories. Visitors… will look out on to the bright, open street, breathe in the smells of the café below and find it hard to believe there’s a war going on anywhere.”
The quick, passing fix is a common occurrence in Glass’s tales – a fix of booze or sex or fantasy – a phenomenon that raises, as its obverse, the need to take responsibility, to grow into decent adulthood, towards parenthood. Glass avoids the charge of moralising by giving his characters space to reach conclusions of their own. Which means that their depth and layered complexity are limited by their capacity for self-insight. Glass seems explicitly aware of this. His few stories in the third person take advantage of authorial omniscience to depict a broader perception of the world, not least its unfathomable myriad other lives, those constantly passing us, with their uncertainties, their fates.
The author’s relish in concocting, sentence by sentence, footnote by footnote, these often quickfire, sometimes satirical, colourful stories, produces a sense of creative energy. In this download-era of frequent budget travel and budget reading, of fast-grab experience, Glass seems in synch with the restless zeitgeist. His tales are in-flight entertainment which, (once you’ve checked in and rushed to your gate) are well worth checking out.