|Review by Rebecca James|
Have you ever met someone at the exact moment when your defenses are dropped, your life feels meaningless and you are completely dissatisfied with everything around you thats familiar and stable? Your eyes become fixated on that unsuspecting being like he or she is the last bottle of Pride water on a hot day at North Shores. You have to have it. The less you know about the person the more far fetched the fantasies become. You can imagine them to be anyone you want. Fools Errand, by Louis Bayard, takes a comic look at the universal pitfalls of love, relationships and our search for THE ONE. Bayard has a talent for creating quick, humorous, intelligent dialogue with a dry edge. His characters betray their insecurities and peculiarities immediately upon description, which works well, allowing them to become fully developed without boring monologues. Their banter, as well as the main characters analysis of each encounter, makes the novel amusing and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny.
Patrick Beaton hates naps. So it seems appropriate that his troubles begin with a chance encounter at a party (actually, he is hiding in the library of the house during said party) just as he is drifting off (against his will, of course). A man in a "cranberry Shetland-wool sweater" appears before him in a sleep-blurred aura, seems to be mildly amused at finding a guest in hiding and bestows his blessing on the nap. "Cast off," he says. Patrick, thoroughly exhausted from a night battling car thieves (a running joke in the book), obeys. When he awakens, the man is gone and no one, not even the hosts, can recall a guest fitting his description. Patrick carries the image with him.
As his relationship with his boyfriend disintegrates, Patrick decides to place an ad in the "Glances" section of the Washington Blade. So begins the year-long search for the mystery-man. Dubbed Scottie because of his sweater, he slowly takes on an identity of his own, conjured up by wild assumptions based on the little bits of information available. Patrick is assisted by the ex-boyfriend of his ex-boyfriends new lover (I love that), Seth, a.k.a. The Tick or sometimes simply "that perspiring man" because of his unique ability to sweat almost continuously. Seth has his own agenda: find Scottie so that Patrick will realize he actually should still be with Alex, who is currently living with Ted, so that Ted will come running back to, you guessed it, Seth.
"Listen, Seth...I have to be honest. I find your logic twisted."
"Course it is."
"I mean, do you honestly think were just a bunch of dominos, and you give one of us a little nudge, and the rest of us all come toppling down in this nice pattern?"
"No, computer analogy is better. I program you all. Let x=y. From there its all binary logic. Which is what its all about, yes? Who to be binary with?...Its the intellectual challenge, yes? The cerebration. An abstract principle becomes concrete."
"Scottie being the abstract principle."
Seth nodded. "Fascinating problem. Right out of a metaphysics textbook."
"You dont think he exists either?"
"On some plane...probably a better one."
After eliminating all the local bars and city hang-outs, their free time is soon spent at locations determined by demographics based on Seths profile of Scottie: suburban gay man. Hence, Saturdays at Ikea, the Leafy Glen grocery of Arlington and Bulk Barn. Its here, in the parking lot of Bulk Barn, a "pale, windowless warehouse stretching back beyond vision", that Seth and Patrick, eyes and heads aching from hard, fixated staring and delusional from the heat radiating off the circling cars of wannabe bargain shoppers, share their ultimate fantasies. This is where Patricks search strikes a chord and really begins to make sense.
" And we put away the stuff from Bulk Barn, and we feed the dog. And we vacuum...clean the bathroom. Just normal weekend stuff, yes? And the whole time were sayingI dont know, really stupid, banal things:Oh, we forgot the light bulbs. Oh, never mind, Ill stop at CVS tomorrow. Stuff like that. And if you were listening to us, youd think, How boring. And it wouldnt be. It would just be us...Does that make sense? In fact, it made a great deal of sense. It made more sense than anything Patrick had heard in a long time, and its very sensibleness made it-suddenly-profoundly moving. Patrick was afraid he would start crying."
Throughout the year, we see the world through Patricks searching eyes. Scottie becomes more than a superficial desire for a sarcastic loner; he becomes a symbol of our misplaced hopes and dreams, of our own blindness to our immediate lives. So disgusted with the shallow lives of most of the people he meets, Patrick has turned off his senses and no longer sees the people passing through his life. "Our Year of Scottie" becomes a turning point. Suddenly, his days are filled with his couch-bumming father and their fight with the Norway rats that have taken up residence in Patricks kitchen, Marianne, who is Patricks long-suffering best friend, and Rick, the man who answered the Glances ad. Factor in Seths brush with the Pink Posse, numerous Scottie impostors, and Patricks infertile violin teacher and you have a complex, humorous story with a universal theme. To my surprise, Fools Errand became more than just a beach read. Louis Bayard manages to capture the romanticized perfectionist images of relationships in the 90s, poke fun at them and remind us what love is all about.
Fools Errand by Louis Bayard June 1999, paperback, 486 pages
Rebecca James is an assistant manager at Browseabout Books on Rehoboth Avenue.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 9, No. 8, July 2, 1999