October 12, 2008

My Latest Affair with Mr. Troost

"Once before, I had abandoned the life I knew in Washington, D.C., escaping the urgent din of the continental world for a distant atoll in the equatorial Pacific.  I lived there for two years, never once looking at a clock, marveling at what a strange turn my life had taken.  I may have heat rash, I thought back then, and I may be hosting eight different kinds of parasites, but at least I'm not some office drone.  I had escaped, I thought mirthfully as I tended to my septic infections.  And then, suddenly, my life took another dramatic U-turn, and I once again found myself back in Washington, where every morning I was confronted by a debilitating decision:  What tie to wear?"

As you know, I was quite enamored with J. Maarten Troost's first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals, and felt it necessary to start right away on his next literary endeavor.  Getting Stoned with Savages is about the time Troost spends living on Fiji and Vanuatu with his wife Sylvia.  

After two years with a high-powered job in DC, Troost and Sylvia again find themselves itching for the adventure of intestinal parasites and mudslides a third world country, and, despite a slightly disturbing military coup, trade in their business suits for flip flops.  Sylvia again takes a job with the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific , and Troost begins work on his first book (The Sex Lives of Cannibals).  Things get even more interesting when they learn Sylvia is pregnant, and must decide where to raise their first child.  

I always feel a particular camaraderie with Troost when he echoes my sentiment about the doldrums of corporate America:

"Now why, one may reasonably ask, would anyone want to go back to such a world?  This is an excellent question.  Boredom, a ferocious, unyielding boredom certainly played a part.  That morning in Kiribati, I had managed in a few short hours, to do something productive.  I had disposed of a problem.  I had swum in the Pacific Ocean.  I had sensed danger.  I had made a friend.  I had a new story to tell.  Certainly, I would not want to relive that particular day, but at least something had happened.  Something interesting.  While it may be true that finding a decomposing pig in your yard is not an ideal way to begin one's day, I found that beginning each new day in Washington, as I did, with the shocking blast of an alarm clock buzzer, shortly to be followed by a frantic race to the office, where I would be greeted by a computer with the news that I had ninety-two new messages, of which thirty-seven were alleged to be urgent, and then to spend the remainder of the day stressing mightily about agendas and bullet points, memos and PowerPoint presentations, conferences and conference calls, only to call it quits long after sunset with the queasy realization that after all that time, all that energy, all that fussing, I really had nothing to show for my day, nothing real and tangible and good - well, I found that such a day stinks too."

At the very least, Troost's books are highly effective in forcing the reader to think outside of their rigid, money-filled American box and consider the value of other, less frenzied, less rat-race-ish cultural practices.  Let's be honest, I'm not saying I'm about to pick up and move to an island plagued by cyclones and foot-long monster centipedes, but reading these books always gets me thinking about other options and ways of life.  And I think that's good.   

Troost again obtains that ever-evasive combination of wit and literary prowess, with just a smidgen more focus on the historical/political/cultural aspects of his island home.  I'll admit, this book wasn't quite as laugh out loud hilarious as the first.  Still well-written, still informative, still funny, but there were markedly fewer moments of awkward under-the-breath snorting.  

There was a sense of seriousness that surrounded this book, which perhaps was simply a reflection of the author evolving as he matures and ponders how to incorporate his growing family into his escapist desires.  

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