By Jeremy C. Shipp

Reviewed by Gary McMahon

Vacation is the debut novel of American author Jeremy C. Shipp, a man whose short fiction has appeared in many venues throughout the independent press. Shipp's crisp modern writing style usually boasts a nice line in originality, and it was with enthusiasm that I approached this latest book.

The plot concerns one Bernard Johnson, who decides to take up the offer of a government-funded Vacation--a once-only trip around the world that is the right of every American citizen in the novel's corporate future-world. The Vacation is a chance to have what passes as adventure in a sterile world, and to shake off the woes of working life, if only for a short time.

During his trip, literary lecturer Bernard meets an ex student of his, a post-op transsexual who may or may not be attracted to him. He also finds himself in a place called the Garden, thrust into a struggle between paramilitary freedom fighters and the powers that be. Here he is subjected to mind games, drug wars and human rights abuses, until he is forced to choose sides in a battle he does not fully understand. Eventually this leads to the secret behind the Vacation. Or perhaps it doesn't. Nothing is solid or tangible in Shipp's world; nobody knows who or what to trust.

The novel is well written, even it if does come on like Lost if it were written by Chuck Palahniuk, and the concept is fairly original. The lead character is believable and flawed (as every anti-hero should be), but I felt it difficult to connect with anyone else in the story--perhaps that was deliberate on the writer's behalf; after all, we are not meant to connect with the deadened society sketched out in these pages.

The Palahniuk-style repetitions and idiosyncratic stylings of the book did grate on me after a while, but not enough to ruin what is, essentially, a very readable tale that only just overreaches its ambitions. If it aims for being a head trip, then Vacation succeeds only in being a nice enigma, and the resolution is fitting if not entirely surprising. But this is a solid novel from a writer of promise--it speaks well of Shipp's intent that he has not taken the obvious route with his first novel. Instead, he has tried something just a little bit different, a story with compassion and a refreshing social angle, and the end result amounts to a book that is very much worth your time and effort.

Vacation by Jeremy C. Shipp. Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, 164pp, hardcover ($24.95/£15.99), trade paperback ($13.95/£7.99). Available from various online outlets, including Amazon UK (refer to publisher's website for a full list of retailers).

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