He isn’t shy about making his influences apparent – during stopovers, he reads Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London in public libraries – but the book is animated by Kaldheim’s resolution that his dissolute days are behind him.... Although it is a memoir set in the Reagan years, the milieu still feels so contemporary. We know those cheap windowless hotel rooms that come furnished with a “sagging bed” and the “obligatory four-drawer dresser, with two missing drawer-pulls and a cherrywood top whose edges were deckled black with cigarette burns”. We’ve noticed the “freelance dealers” who wander from bar to bar looking desperate every night. Cashless, and without a place to go, we’ve all spent some mornings in public libraries. For those vulnerable and stranded in the US, certain things appear to have remained unchanged. Too many of us still have to resort to the Penn Station luggage lockers.
Despite that, it’s not a depressing or angry read. Rather, he is a witty observer; he took notes at the time that he has no doubt embellished, 30 years later in this his first book. One hostel is described as “a sleepover camp for prodigal sons”. At a Catholic mission he tries on shoes donated by pious widows. They are “the soles of the faithful departed”. Kaldheim does not rail at Mommy and Daddy or society or consumerism or capitalism. Nor does he finger-wag or preach, although he does note an old Brazilian proverb: “When shit becomes valuable, the poor will be born without assholes.”