Filmmaker and podcaster Paul Dore wants to tell the honest-to-goodness truth – by writing it as fiction. The Walking Man flirts with being a confessional chronicle, but, at its best moments, it becomes a globetrotting tale that imagines new ways to get at what’s really going on. The narrator’s trip to Jordan acts as a loose framework for a story of self-discovery and redemption. Lyrical vignettes from the vast desert, studded with solitary, single-sentence paragraphs (“The sun will show me the way home”) provide a counterpoint to a slew of angst ridden dispatches from a more familiar urban environment.
The informal musings that fill up much of the book’s first half are keenly self-aware. The narrator opens, “Lemme just get this out of the goddamn way: I’m nervous as hell. Nervous because you may or may not relate to the mess that follows.” Although “mess” may be an exaggeration, the book does have an anxious tone, often apologizing for itself: “Listen, I’m not sure what all the bumbling around in the dark on this page is all about.” These panicky admissions are often accompanied by pseudo-existential bits like, “The world is absurd and random, and how do you impart change to absurdity and randomness?” Initially charming, the incessant lapses of confidence, and use of question marks and “damnits,” quickly grow tiresome.
There is, of course, a story throughout all of this. Trips to Cuba and New York – more cargo for the narrator’s barrelling train of thought – cushion details about past romances and a deepening friendship with a deceased grandmother’s best friend, Mary. A chain-smoking, one-armed firecracker of an old lady, Mary unearths the grandmother’s eerily detailed files, and confronts the narrator with some harsh truths.
The somewhat scattered story finds its focus in the second part, where the idea of “fictionalized truth” takes impressive shape. In the midst of a citywide blackout, the narrator takes the long (long) way home from Mary’s retirement residence. Driven by some mysterious force, and many strange, serendipitous encounters, he walks for days, stumbling into some life-changing realizations and reunions. This gonzo conclusion is a welcome, frankly surprising turn from the previous chapters. Dore hits his stride when he shakes the internal banter and writes a more bizarre, comical reality. Though still a bit sentimental, it feels much more “true.”