26 November, 2021

LitStack Recs: The Drifters & The Book of Strange New Things

The Drifters, by James Michener

I was curious about Michener’s 1971 bestseller, but “Not a book for kids,” was I think how my mother phrased the embargo on reading The Drifters. But the cover art of sexy college kids and chapter titles like “Monica,” “Britta,” and “Pamplona,” proved too difficult to resist, so I smuggled the paperback off the bookshelf and read it on the sly. The novel tells of six college-age internationals who meet in Spain, then travel to Portugal, Mozambique, and finally Morocco. I was on summer break, stuck at home, and those travels seemed impossibly exotic—as did the Michener’s characters. They worked for Eugene McCarthy, waitressed in Spanish bars, took LSD, slept on the beach and said things like: “People who live in grass houses shouldn’t get stoned.” Their sybaritic and unstructured world, enabled by a privilege that at the time was taken for granted, fueled my unrealistic ideas about what it meant to come of age. Meanwhile the novel’s larger political and social concerns were simply daunting. I skipped over the political issues, all the better to get back to Britta, wading into the Mediterranean with a Gauloise in one hand, a perfect embodiment of my inexperienced view of the future.

—Lauren Alwan

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