Jim Oaten’s collection explores travel and memory
As we travel we gain perspective about the world and our native environments. It’s when we recount our travels though that we begin to understand how we shape our own lives. Vancouver writer Jim Oaten explores this idea and the thin line between fact and fiction in his debut collection Accelerated Paces: Travels Across Borders and Other Imaginary Boundaries. S tyled early on as a memoir Oaten combines both personal stories and flights of imagination.
“Penumbra” and “Neither Here Nor There” and their fictional companion piece “We’ll Always Have Hiroshima” deal with hospitals. The first two are examinations of memory set during Oaten’s visits with his mother who is living with Alzheimer’s. “Like politicians we’re all unreliable narrators all of us creative artists subject to time bias and wishful thinking.” In the next story the protagonist Billy has been treated for clinical depression and wishes to move on with his life to forget about his time spent in the hospital. Both stories have little concern for the past focusing instead on the chance for new experiences.
The title story stretches these new experiences across three continents: Africa Europe and North America. The characters rapidly move through each destination — elephant wrangling outside of Voi Kenya sightseeing in Florence gambling in Vegas and finally shopping at Ikea. Oaten details these moments beautifully never straying from the fact that the jet set refuses to stand still and that there is only so much time to see everything.
Writing about the headaches and wonderment of adventure Oaten takes time to offer insight on lighter topics such as the globalization of Hello Kitty and how to stay calm while riding in an airplane. “There comes a point in just about every journey where nothing matters” he writes claiming later that if you can hold out just a little bit longer at 35000 feet your destination should be well worth the anxiety attacks. According to Oaten liquor also helps.
While Oaten smoothly illustrates the philosophies of travel throughout a few of the stories feel out of place. “A Day at the Races” acts like a cheap updated play on Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” with the protagonist and his drug-addled sidekick zooming around the grounds and stands of a NASCAR race. With the mention of Thompson in the final story the influence is far too obvious.
In the final story “CNN and the Heat Death of the Universe” Oaten challenges the idea of travel writing and reporting: “Yet what television and more specifically CNN gave us wasn’t news it was noise.” He ultimately concludes that like the death of The Doors’ frontman Jim Morrison you can never really understand the whole story unless it happens to you.
Accelerated Paces proves an interesting work for those travelling around the world and for those who feel like escaping for a couple hours on a lazy afternoon.