The Tourists by Jeff Hobbs
I blame Bret Easton Ellis for this book. He taught Hobbs, and you can see his greasy, coke-stained crib notes scribbled all over this mess of a story. And it’s a shame, because if Hobbs didn’t try to ape his mentor, he’d be a hell of a fucking writer. As it is, there are moments of greatness shining through this dismal doppleganger of The Informers. Actually, it’s The Great Gatsby as translated by the younger brother of Patrick Bateman after doing a bump off Amber Heard’s ass.
Once more, we’re asked to take pity on a group of well-to-do New Yorkers as they drug and double-fuck and party and sigh and pine. The narrator, who is never named, is a part of the story by force majeure, crammed into the lives of his social betters by virtue of a shared Yale schooling and the weird ties that bind all classmates. He doesn’t belong to this world, and he bangs despondently and emo-ly against it like a docked rowboat in a summer storm. He’s not much of a writer, struggling with his career and writing fluff pieces for magazines. And so, he ends up writing the story of one summer in the lives of four awful people engaged in a love rhombus.
The casual bisexuality and drug abuse is sort of a Hallmark of an Ellis novel, so without it, we’d be reading Vanity Fair. We’ve got David Taylor, a boring ass financier, married to Samona Ashley Taylor, a caramel goddess, former fashion model, and struggling designer. Enter Ethan Hoevel, a stylish designer who’s the talk of the town and the fuck of your dreams. At risk of spoilerizing stuff, everybody ends up fucking everybody else, metaphorically, spiritually and physically. And there is the crux of the novel. While it’s carefully caged in the concept of unrequited longing, and the idea of “What is Love?” it’s handled about as deeply as the Arista song that the Butabi brothers sexually assault to. The mopey narrator stands back as an observer, the fat girl at the formal, who mouths the words to the songs and adjusts her corsage, gazing around and hoping someone will ask her to dance.
The characters themselves are ridiculous archetypes that manage — thanks in no small part to Hobbs’ actual talent — to rise above the mediocre borrowed plot he crammed them into. The most interesting parts of the novel surround the peripheral characters: The arsenal of assholes that swing at the beautiful people with sledgehammers of pent-up rage. Aidan, Ethan’s slag of a fucking brother; James Gutterson, a cockhead hockey jock swinging-dick prick who works for David; and Stanton Vaughn, a protypical flaming gay stalker who spurts drama like distilled “Project Runway”: These fellas set the novel on fire.
The Tourists reads like a particularly decent gossip rag. We’re supposed to give a shit about people with better jobs and looks and lives than us. We’re supposed to feel bad that they feel bad — even though they go to the $$$$ restaurants and escape to Peru for beachfront fuckfests when they feel blue. You can tolerate Ellis’ excess because it’s timestamped in the 80s. In the post 9/11 world, it’s hard to give a fuck about the woes of the richfolk. Even though the narrator is mostly poor and outside the world of the characters, it’s nearly impossible to take pity on him because he so badly wants to be with the glitteratti.
I feel bad, because you can see how good of an author Hobbs is. His talent is palpable, and despite his penchant for ellipses which read like an audio book performed by Malcolm’s wheelchair BFF in “Malcolm in the Middle,” you can tell he’s going to do well. Hopefully, out from the wings of Ellis, he’ll venture into less “Dallas”-like territory. The Tourists came out in 2008 to strong reviews — because it’s the kind of shit that most LitMags eat with a fucking silver fork — so he’s gonna be doing a second book. And I’ll read it, because the man’s got skills.
This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Prisco’s reviews, check out his blog, The Gospel According to Prisco.