The Odyssey

Lara Williams. Zando, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-63893-006-8

A young British woman employed on a surreal cruise ship is at the center of Williams’s stylish if cold latest (after Supper Club). The protagonist, Ingrid, is devoted to her work aboard the WA, a gargantuan vessel with a “surf simulator, ice-skating rink, outdoor zip line,” and floating restaurant, helmed by the mysterious Keith, a guru-like figure preoccupied by the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. Ingrid shuffles through many onboard jobs, from working in a gift shop to the ship’s nail salon, and, in the book’s final third, to lifeguarding (ironic, since she can’t swim). Early on she is inducted into a shadowy inner circle called “the program” in which she meets periodically with Keith to discuss wabi-sabi and recall traumatic memories from her past. Soon, she is promoted to a managerial role, a development that alienates her two closest friends. The prose is generally excellent and occasionally razor-sharp (describing Ingrid’s pre-WA void, “The getting never really felt as good as the wanting, but the not-getting felt fucking catastrophic”); unfortunately, the plot is meagre and overly self-conscious. Ingrid belongs to a particular breed of disaffected, Moshfeghian narrator, but here there’s more affect than substance. In the end, this feels eccentric for eccentricity’s sake. (Apr.)
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