I received a copy of Going Somewhere by Brian Benson for review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.
About the Book:
Going Somewhere is mostly about a cross-country bike trip Brian Benson, the author, took with his girlfriend, Rachel. After meeting in South America and then returning to their respective homes in Wisconsin (Brian) and Oregon (Rachel), the two decided to bike together from Brian’s home to Rachel’s.
Aside from the initial setup, in which the pair meets one another and makes plans, the book focuses on their ride, mile by mile and town by town. It follows them through broken spokes and illicit campsites; generous people and creepy strangers; exhilarating downhill adrenaline rushes and grueling, relationship-straining climbs. As they creep ever closer to Portland, Brian tries to make sense of his life, his relationship, and his place in the world.
I was excited to read Going Somewhere because it’s been compared to Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which I enjoyed. (There’s even a blurb from her on the cover.) Sadly, I was disappointed.
It’s not that Going Somewhere was bad. It just wasn’t what I was hoping for. It felt shallow somehow, immature. Maybe that’s because of where Benson was in his life when he took the trip; the book could be an accurate telling, even if it’s not what I’d expected or hoped for.
It felt like the book was supposed to be profound somehow, but it never really was. It just felt…young. Even the heavier moments seemed to be made light of because of the overall tone. And there was no lesson at the end. I didn’t feel like Benson came out of the experience changed. That’s fine, of course, except that the whole book seemed to be building toward some eventual revelation (which never materialized). Maybe I’ve been trained to expect too much from ordinary stories! But if you’re going to put your story in a book, I’m not sure those expectations are entirely unjustified.
Going Somewhere also felt repetitive. I’d imagine biking across the country could, indeed, get repetitive. But partway through the book, after a number of nearly identical small towns and daily routines and overnights with gracious hosts and tensions between the couple about riding speed, everything started to run together for me. The book began to read like a trip log wrapped in a gauze of flimsy narrative rather than a proper story. And I started to get impatient.
Also, it bothered me that the book begins several chapters before the ride but ends (I don’t believe this is much of a spoiler, but feel free to skip this paragraph if you’re worried!) before the ride does. I think I’d have liked it better had it been structured as either (a) the ride in the middle, with context on both ends, or (b) just the ride, with other relevant details (including how Rachel and Brian met) told as flashbacks throughout the ride. Ride as contained, or ride as container — not half and half.
The redeeming characteristic was Benson’s writing style. He truly has a way with words, simultaneously playful and profound. His metaphors and over-the-top-hyphenated adjectives were spot on rather than cliched. There was more than one turn of phrase I marveled over, paused to enjoy. Without that aspect, I’m not sure I’d have kept reading, honestly. (Also, the cover is quite lovely. Yet another example, though, of why you should not judge a book by what’s on the front of it!)
The Verdict: Mediocre
I didn’t love Going Somewhere, as I suppose is evident. The writing kept me from regretting the time I spent reading it, but I suspect it won’t stay long in my memory. If you want a soul-searching journey through the wilderness, go for Cheryl Strayed’s Wild instead.
Have you ever read a book you expected might be like another one you’d enjoyed, only to be disappointed? What was it?