Vacation, by Jeremy Shipp (Review)

The world has, since the inception—intentional or otherwise—of humankind, always been a dubious plane of existence. You’d be hard-pressed to find an author, poet, artist, musician, politician, holy man, or everyman who has never spoken out concerning the human condition, from the tiniest fib to the most horrific act of genocide. Newspaper columnists, Sunday preachers, eastern philosophers all dissect the meaning of life in their various fashions—but Jeremy Shipp’s Vacation (see web site), a first-person tour de force that takes place in an alternate universe and/or future-in-the-making, actually takes the human condition and turns it inside out.

On the surface, Vacation is about a disgruntled English teacher named Bernard Johnson who goes on Vacation (yes, proper capitalization) with an ex-student, once-male, now-female friend and discovers the world is not what he initially thought it to be.

Okay. Simple enough premise—you see it all the time in various forms of literature (well, maybe without the sex change). Peel away that superficial layer, though, and you soon find yourself entangled in a labyrinth of spiritual testing and social commentary unflinchingly portrayed by Shipp’s characters. In this world, society exists in two major flavors: the Tics and the Meeks, the former being the well-to-dos of the industrialized nations, the latter being the poor, the exiled. Using this metaphor, it quickly becomes obvious the Tics are our own pop culture, the pill-popping, credit-card-wielding, overfed, and over-stimulated masses who have been shielded from the terrible truths of the world in a sort of global propaganda scheme to bolster big business. The Meeks are, well, everyone else—a grassroots conglomerate of militants who have cleansed their bodies and minds of all social poisons. Somewhere in between is the Garden, an external haven lead by Noh, who seeks to seed truth back into the world, one mind at a time.

Bernard’s adventure plays out in the classic escapist fashion—on crack. Indeed, much of his transformation has to do with the altering of his mind, the skewering of his perspective, so that he may glimpse the dream he’s been living from the outside. He goes on Vacation, falls in love, becomes a tool for the Meeks, and ultimately helps to realize Noh’s vision of social revolution—but don’t expect any of this to be A-B-C, for the strength of Shipp’s narrative lies in his ability to toss the ball to his characters and trust that their decisions, their reactions will guide the story true. The underlying meaning is present throughout, but it is quite obvious from the start that you, the reader, are just as responsible as Bernard in coming to your own conclusions.

Shipp’s style in Vacation demands an agile approach, as various scenes shift seamlessly between dreams and reality—often without warning. I’m reminded of S.P. Somtow’s Riverrun Trilogy: one quarter real, three quarters surreal. Considering the concept, I can’t imagine it any other way.

Vacation is a potent social theory, a spiritual hopscotch from start to finish. With interesting scenarios and thought-provoking dialog, it is a compelling reason for fans of psychological fantasy to look up Jeremy Shipp.