Sep 29, 2008: I’ve read the first 16 chapters of Estimated Time of Arrival, and either I don’t understand it, or it’s rather uneven. There are a good number of chapters when the writing is vibrant and funny and insightful and revealing—when I love its warmth, its honesty, its gentle, laid-back rhythm. And then there is a bunch of boring, frat-boy, stoned drunkeness in between.
Estimated Time of Arrival is the (slightly?) fictionalized memoir of Sol Mann, a self-described drug-addict who hops a plane from Canada to Costa Rica for the vacation of a lifetime. He’s got $8000 in cash, no schedule to speak of, and a plan to experience life like never before. We follow his exploits in love, sex, drinking, and mechanical-bull-riding.
ETA is at its best when Sol is out in the world by himself, exploring new places and a new culture, meeting new people. The chapters with Dawna, a young American woman he meets, are electric and wonderful. His trip up the coast is also a great read. Unfortunately, the story does not stay in those moments. Eventually, Sol meets up with an old friend from Canada, and he spends a good long while hanging out at the beach with a bunch of tourist surfer types. And—for me, at least—that’s where the writing falls apart: the story becomes little more than a play-by-play of drinking binges and pointless drugs. The dialogue grows mundane and banal. With a few exceptions, these chapters seem written more for those drinking buddies—as war stories—than for new readers, and it seems likely the only people who will find them interesting are the people who were there, and who remember everything with the soft-focus of a chemical haze. These chapters provide no real insight, no depth—no real fun, even—and they aren’t a very rewarding read, as a result.
There are 20 chapters currently posted, and unusually for me, I’ve decided to stop reading at 16. For the last 8 chapters, I’ve been hoping it would get better—back to the way it was. And, every once in a while, it would—but not for long.
It’s odd—when Sol leaves Dawna to visit old friends, I found myself wanting to scream, "No! She’s the best thing that ever happened to you! Why are you leaving?" And now I have to wonder—if it’s true for the story, too.
I think the first 7 chapters of Estimated Time of Arrival are solid, and very much worth your time. After that, who knows—maybe you’ll get it, where I didn’t.
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