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Walking Tour, The

Davis, Kathryn

162 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0395945410 / ISBN 13: 9780395945414
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, 1999
Condition: Near Fine Hardcover
From Monroe Street Books (Middlebury, VT, U.S.A.)

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About this Item

264 pages, SIGNED BY AUTHOR on title page, very clean and tight copy. Record # 456081. Bookseller Inventory # 456081

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Walking Tour, The

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Near Fine

Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


It is the turn of this century. Two couples -- businessman Bobby Rose and his artist wife Carole Ridingham, his partner Coleman Snow and Snow's wife Ruth Farr -- have gone on a walking tour in Wales, during which a fatal accident occurs. The question of what happened preoccupies not only an ensuing negligence trial but also the narrator, Bobby and Carole's daughter. Susan lives alone in her parents' house near the coast of Maine, addressing us from a future in which property no longer shapes destiny, a position providing unusual perspective on the way we live now. Assisted by court transcripts, a notebook computer containing Ruth Farr's journal, as well as by the menacing young vagrant who's taken to camping on her doorstep, Susan ultimately lays open the moral predicament at the heart of the book: we are culpable beings, even though we live in a world of imperfect knowledge. By turns dazzling and dark, as dangerous and entrancing as the Welsh landscape it describes, The Walking Tour is part mystery story, part shrewd visionary meditation on the uneasy marriage of art and commerce.


This walking tour ends, literally, at a jumping-off place. It ends, too, at the end of the world. Kathryn Davis's beautifully written tale begins and ends in Wales, a country she would have us believe is looped and configured with myths that govern modern life as well as they did in the days of yore. Four Americans--two couples--make a trip there at the end of the 20th century. By journey's end, two of the four will disappear in a mist on the Gower peninsula. Years later, Susan, the daughter of one of the couples, cobbles their story together from diaries, court documents, and letters. The novel teeters between the Wales of the walking tour and the gray, mysterious, post-Apocalyptic world she endures.

Davis is very funny, in the English-country-house comedy-of-manners tradition--on the tour itself, making free with the unsavory combination of precious historicizing and raw sexual tension that characterizes such holidays. And she may well have a thing about vegetarians, who are well represented. "St. David's? Most Welsh churches seemed to be named for him, a man who subsisted on leeks and water and caused a hill to grow under his feet so he could address his disciples from a lofty position, more or less in the spirit of modern-day vegetarians." The satire jostles along nicely, full of prickly insults and off-balance observations.

Bobby Rose and Coleman Snow, the two husbands, run a company, SnowWhite & RoseRead, that has invented a kind of overwriting device, a computer program that detects vulnerability in texts and allows readers to rewrite them. This program may or may not have precipitated a kind of holocaust of meaning, where Susan is forced to dwell now that her parents have quit the scene. If this all sounds a little vague, it is. In retrospect, Susan muses, "But how did it work, I wonder? By which I mean, morally, not technically. What came over people that they'd let other people fool around with their words, their sentences, their ideas, their dreams?" Dunno, but at a certain point, one starts to wonder how it worked technically, not morally. Don't expect a punch-line, end-of-novel answer, for it never comes. Davis hangs a huge amount of millennial, late-capitalist baggage from this invention, and yet we never properly find out what exactly it is. You can make out the kernel, just barely, within the mist. But the mist starts to give you a headache, and you yearn to get back to the really rather good yarn of the four people going for a walk in Wales. On the other hand, a headachy mist is just the effect Davis seems to be after in her fourth novel. For readers seeking to be unmoored, this is a heady, misty read indeed. --Claire Dederer

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