Travel story based on real events? Or true tale of life and death?
Deciding on which books to review is never easy. While I definitely lean towards reviewing books I loved reading, there is a time/interest/value equation that weighs the scales. More specifically, am I moved enough by the book to investment my time delving deeper into my reader response to come up with something unique to say that would be of value to someone else?
Such was my dilemma with WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME: A True Story by David P. Perimutter. I didn’t hate the book. There were parts that I thoroughly enjoyed. The writing is overpacked with details yet the author keeps the pace brisk and the reader mostly engaged. But in the end I had some serious issues with it that made it a less than satisfying read.
Still, I wasn’t planning to write a review until I learned the author was starting a second book, this one fiction, and I reread these words in the book description of WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME on Amazon:
” … this is my story based on true events of my trip to Marbella, Spain. There are moments in the story that I’m not proud of but also there are some that I am. You will have your view and I would be delighted to hear what you think of my book.”
Delighted? He may not be. But, here it is.
WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME is the tale of a self-involved, immature young man’s fall from a graceful life as a successful London real estate broker to wandering, homeless and destitute in a foreign land to becoming a fugitive from justice desperate to return to homeland and family.
Young David’s party trail to a Spanish jail is straight forward and predictable. His hell is not paved as much with good intentions, as drugs, alcohol and increasingly bad decision-making. And despite the book’s title, he is neither blameless, nor are his crimes victimless (ask his family, former employer, or even himself if he was honest). Still, life and literature are full of youthful follies and inadvertent anti-hero.
So were does WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME fall apart for me?
Autobiographies provide insight into a slice of the writer’s life. While bias is a given, trust is necessary. The reader needs to believe that the writer’s story is real, the details authentic and the version of events mostly true – if to no one other than the writer himself.
Read as a travel story based on real events and given creative twists for dramatic effect, WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME makes sense. Read as a true tale of life and death proportions, it takes on a hazy dream quality that lacks credibility in telling details, insights and evidence.
David is a professional salesman, experienced at evaluating people and situations, remembering key details and adapting as needed. As he makes the rounds of the various party scenes in London and Marabella, he adapts to fit into some tricky situations and the reader is treated to extensive details and minute-by-minute re-enactments down to each brand of beer or specialty drink order by whom and who paid how much for each round. Can anyone have this detailed a memory while heavily intoxicated?
Yet, when the author is charged with arson, manslaughter of an untold number of people, and stealing from the victims (which he admits to doing) and is jailed, his world becomes a hazy and vague place. We learn about oranges and stale cups of water and huddling in the corner – then the story suddenly jumps five days to his first hearing. Those five days were a pivotal moment for David, what he thought and did are keys to the rest of his story. Yet the reader is left to wonder and imagine his deepest thoughts and fears.
Was he remorseful of the thefts and not just his stupidity and family’s embarrassment? Did he obsess over discovering the identity of the people he rescued? Or worry about those he stole from? Was he curious as to how many were dead? And how was he planning to clear his name? The reader disconnect continues when he is suddenly and inexplicably released into the custody of a stranger who is a journalist – and we are back to being fed the minute-by-minute details as David watches tv, reads Stephen King’s MISERY and wanders the streets.
Still I was willing to let it all pass as inexperienced writing and misplace emphasis on what was and wasn’t necessary to the story, until I came to the ending.
Even an anti-hero loses credibility with farce – as when a grown man hides under a blanket like a child when his mother scolds him for disgracing the family. Too bad the writer didn’t wake up at that point and realize it had all been a bad dream.
As a reader it would have made this “true” story more real.