December 19, 2012

30 Books in 30 Days: "The Soft Exile," by Eric Kiefer

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The Soft Exile, by Eric Kiefer

The Soft Exile
By Eric Keifer
Gentleman Tree Publishing

Peace Corps memoirs are surprisingly tricky to pull off, for the same reason that all stories about young people going on international trips are tricky to pull off; because despite the apparent uniqueness embedded in that particular story, these "unique" elements in fact tend to repeat themselves from one story like this to the next, meaning that it's more important than ever that that author infuse that story with the kinds of great literary touches that mark a superior writer, unfortunately missing in most of these cases because of the young authors mostly being dilettantes who happen to have one interesting true story on their hands. And all of this is certainly the case with Eric Kiefer's disappointing The Soft Exile, which sets the wrong tone even from the very first page, in that the author decided to start this realistic story with a bit of absurdist humor, thus making it unclear what the overall tone of the book is supposed to be in the first place. (It's mostly the real-sounding story of a young man who spends two years in Mongolia; but the reason he makes this decision is because of calling a suicide prevention hotline one night in despair and being berated by a volunteer for being a worthless American douchebag, such a silly and unrealistic touch that it can only be treated as a bizarro comedy, making it difficult to figure out whether the rest of the ho-hum story is supposed to also be absurdist or a straightahead memoir.) Like many of these kinds of stories, huge portions of The Soft Exile read not like a three-act novel but rather as letters home to family, filled with the kinds of inconsequential details that someone's parents might enjoy learning but not a stranger reading a full-length book; and also like a lot of these kinds of stories, our main character often comes across as clueless about and sometimes even perversely proud of his douchebaggy white-middle-class behavior, making this ironically an anti-villain story* only without the author being aware that that's what he's writing. (*Anti-villain story: When a main narrator starts out as likeable if not strange, but slowly becomes more and more despicable as the book continues, done on purpose in such famous examples as A Confederacy of Dunces but often accidentally in Peace Corps memoirs and other "rah rah frat boys!" kind of books.) A valiant effort but a book that widely misses its mark, it does not come recommended to a general audience.

Out of 10: 6.4

Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:21 AM, December 19, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |