A comic novel about a Midwestern professor who tries to prop up his failing prospects for happiness by setting out on the Journey of a Lifetime.
Louie Hake is forty-three and teaches architectural history at a third-rate college in Michigan. His second marriage is collapsing, and he's facing a potentially disastrous medical diagnosis. In an attempt to fend off what has become a soul-crushing existential crisis, he decides to treat himself to a tour of the world's most breathtaking architectural sites. Perhaps not surprisingly, Louie gets waylaid on his very first stop in Rome--ludicrously, spectacularly so--and fails to reach most of his other destinations. He embarks on a doomed romance with a jilted bride celebrating her ruined marriage plans alone in London. And in the Arctic he finds that turf houses and aluminum sheds don't amount to much of an architectural tradition. But it turns out that there's another sort of architecture there: icebergs the size of cathedrals, bobbing beside a strange and wondrous landscape. It soon becomes clear that Louie's grand journey is less about where his wanderings have taken him and more about where his past encounters with romance have not. Whether pursuing his first wife, or his estranged current wife, or the older woman he kissed just once a quarter-century ago, Louie reveals himself to be endearing, deeply touching, wonderfully ridiculous . . . and destined to find love in all the wrong places.
In this charming and moving ramble of a novel from Leithauser (The Art Student's War), 43-year-old bipolar Louie Hake is going through a rough patch. Teaching architectural history at a college in the academic backwaters of Michigan, his second wife, Florence, has just left him for another man, and he has been diagnosed with a degenerative macular disorder. The latter propels him to leave his job and embark on a tour of the world's great architectural sights before he can no longer see them. His first stop is Rome, where he meets Louie Koepplinger, a widowed dentist from Philadelphia who has philosophically adjusted to the indignities of old age. From there, Louie Hake moves on to London, where he is approached by another American, Sophie Pfister, who has been jilted by her husband-to-be and decided to enjoy their honeymoon itinerary on her own. Louie's final destination is Greenland, where he makes the acquaintance of an argumentative Dane named Bendiks Overgaard and follows him to his home in the remote village of Qaqqatnakkarsimasut, there to be dazzled by nature's architecture in the form of calving glaciers. Leithauser's novel offers civilized comforts of beguiling characters, witty dialogue, and trenchant observations about modern life that enshrines the visceral pleasures of armchair travel.