The Tourists by Jeff Hobbs

Not a bad first novel, over all, but I found it hard to get through Hobbs writing style. I was bothered by a lot by little continuity glitches, like Hotmail and Yahoo email accounts not being common in 1996-97, the market rooms were poorly written, or the location, the New York fashion & design industry, did not seem well researched. Hobbs uses these all as throwaway props without being able to give them any real flesh. Especially the City; New York becomes a stage but Hobbs doesn't seem to know it well enough to give much life. Perhaps a good editor could have helped by cutting some of these embarrassments. But since they're all there, it distracted me from the story and the elements that do work. For me, this is the kind of sloppiness that characterizes Generation Why. This is a group that expects everything right now, that takes the easy way, that thinks a first draft is all it takes.

And, for the most part, that is what “The Tourists” is about - late 20 somethings who get lucky and make it without having to do much work to succeed. And while career success comes easy for the characters, emotional maturity doesn't. For every one of them is stunted by the fact that they believe that they don't need to “find themselves”; they believe they should be mature adults immediately after leaving college, and that their experiences at Yale has determined their futures, case closed. This is especially true of Ethan, the one of the four who does go the Peru after school only to believe that it was basically a waste. Unable to even articulate the possibility of being bisexual, he “comes out” in his junior year and comes to the City seemingly confident, not only with his sexuality, but with his orientation. This is until he runs into Samona at an opening, and an affair begins.

The story of David and Samona is basically an updated “Revolutionary Road” set in the City. David gives up on his dream to become a successful banker in order to snag Samona, then works long hours to lose her. Abandoned by her partner, Samona becomes bored until deciding to start up a fabric printing company with an old modeling friend. This gets her out of the apartment and back into the world, where the chance meeting with Ethan sparks her sexually and distracts her from her unhappiness. The affair causes Ethan to question his own orientation, but he falls right into the binary trap of straight/gay while behaving bisexually.

At times, I had the felt the only difference between the '50's melodrama set in the 'burbs and this novel is the change in props. But, since even the martinis and prescription drugs are there, even the props aren't much changed. The author even gives the hint by referencing Yates' novel in one scene. The message: that nothing has really changed for the Yale set in all this time, except the race and gender of lovers one can choose today. This is a Generation Why that cannot make a world to feel comfortable to inhabit. Hobbs pretty much tells us they cannot. In the first pages, when Ethan confesses the affair to the unnamed narrator, his morality is stuck in the sanctity of marriage. What is disturbing is the retro ideas that inhabit the younger generation; marriage, family, and success are all understood in the same terms the '50's educated suburbanites could relate. Gone are the culture wars, the actual 21st Century family, and the modern relationships that we've given as examples to follow.

Instead, our narrator, a poor journalist, inhabits the worlds of his successful Yale friends, pines for Samona, and acts the voyeur. He's “too much of a nice guy” to actuality go pursue Samona, though, choosing instead to obtain information from all involved, hiding every detail from the protagonists. Slowly, the details are reveled. Ethan is not only sleeping with Samona, he is sleeping with David, too. His only possible motivation goes back to the day at Yale when he saw them in love. Maybe his contempt for the perfect couple leads him toward destroying them? Or maybe he just wants to show the narrator that he can have anyone he wants? It's hard to tell as we never get deeper into Ethan's physiology more than that he is often mean to others.

We are given a sense of David's motivations, though. He has a calculated plan that he keeps to. Even after his original life plan in gone, he redesigns it to include Samona, success, children, and house in the suburbs. He manipulates Samona, first to New York, then to dependence. In every way David is the most developed character. He is fleshed out enough to have feelings for. The rest of the cast are too thin to really care about. The excuse for many of their flaws are their parents and upbringings. All we can gather about the narrator is that he is stuck in his desire for Samona and the structure of college.

While he rejects his parents, he is stuck as an unsuccessful freelance writer, unable to make any other relationships, and more and more dependent on his Yale friends for survival. The narrator fails to make the case that his affair with Ethan was just “youthful indisgression” even as he shows us the damage he has done to Ethan. Maybe his inability to do any more than tread water through life comes from his guilt at turning Ethan into what he has become? At the end, there isn't enough to make me care. And it seems Hobbs doesn't either. He is more concerned with detailing the emptiness of the current generation to offer any solutions or even analysis. We are left with a cast who are all a bit bruised but no more wiser. At least the 50's version of this melodrama ended with fireworks and destruction.

As for this being a bisexual novel, it is only by definition. Nowhere in the text is the word or even a constructive concept of bisexuality; we are only shown three of the major characters sleeping with men and women. And we know that Samona went no farther then a kiss in her college days. What about David? Why does he fall for Ethan? This is unclear other than to get even with his wife's affair. Or maybe he is too afraid of what he would find through self discovery? At the end, David ignores the detour in his life plan and takes Samona to the suburb faze. But gone are children after becoming infertile from a previous affair. For the perfect couple, this is an unhappy ending. Could they find happiness in a triad with another man? We can only speculate as it is never proposed by the author. All we know about Ethan is that he has left the City. As for the author, it seems he is over Samona but is left with nobody. How he can continue to survive in the City is unclear, only that work seems to be picking up for him. As for any coming to terms with his own sexuality, there is little doubt that he is still too in denial to deal. His excuse for not having any meaningful opposite sex relationships is his pining for Samona. But his fear of Ethan betrays the excuse. Of course none of this is dealt with by Hobbs. He refuses to go there, and that's disappointing.