Alan Gottlieb’s debut provocative and intense novel, Ultimate Excursions examines the anguish and guilt of Tim Lake, a Peace Corps volunteer following the witnessing of the gruesome death of his buddy, Mark Miles, as a result of cocaine overdose.
After completing college, Tim joined the Peace Corps and he was assigned to the agricultural extension program in Ecuador, which was preceded by a three- month training period in Costa Rica. It was during these training sessions that Tim befriended Mark Miles and immediately became attracted to him. It was also during these sessions that Tim became part of a six- member group that formed a nucleus around which the rest of the volunteers bonded.
Tim describes Mark as a runaway train due to his frequent erratic behavior; nonetheless, it didn’t take a great deal of convincing for Tim to follow Mark around no matter what would be the repercussions. During one of their jaunts the couple decided to take off to Machu Picchu, Peru for a few days where as Mark assures Tim, “it is going to be awesome and a month of wine, women, song and who knows what else.” Little did Tim know that it certainly would be awesome but not in any way he could imagine.
One evening Mark and Tim are having a grand time boozing and inhaling cocaine when they heard a loud rap on the door of their “buck-a-night room.” Knowing full well what the ramifications would be if they were found in possession of narcotics, Tim hurriedly throws some of the cocaine in the toilet. However, Mark decides to gulp down his portion along with some alcohol. The combination proves to be lethal and as he tries to vomit, he gags and nothing comes up. In his psychotic exploding and panic, Mark begs for Tim’s assistance, however, Tim seems to be paralysed as he watches Mark’s arms “flailing around, like they were spiking a series of volleyballs.”
As Tim recounts: “finally I was moving. I flung myself on top of Mark, but it was like jumping on a bucking bronco…Mark had stopped moving. His face was purple and his tongue was hanging out. Only the white of his eyes showed, and there was foam all around his mouth.”
Running out of the room and to a nearby restaurant, Tim seeks help shouting that his friend has killed himself and that they are Peace Corps volunteers.
After being questioned by the local law authorities, who believe that there may have been some foul play including trafficking in narcotics, Miguel Hernandez, director of the Peace Corps agricultural programs in Ecuador, comes to Tim’s rescue. However, there is a price to be paid as Miguel orders Tim never to tell anyone the truth as to what exactly happened to Mark. If asked, Tim must state, as he initially informed Miguel, that Mark had been ill and this led to his death. Tim becomes quite upset as to what he has been ordered to do and his immediate response is: “Miguel, are you asking me to cover your ass with a lie?”
Nonetheless, Tim consents to go along with the lie and cover up not fully realizing that his cowardice, inaction and collusion will haunt him for the next ten years that will affect him with profound personality and psychological implications.
What makes this novel vital and alive is that Gottlieb is very passionately involved and engaged in human suffering as he depicts his protagonist working through his shocking anguish and pain. Moreover, he doesn’t omit the circumstances of everyday life, vividly crafting them without concealing their reality. On another level, Gottlieb shows compassion, as readers are exposed to the just and unjust, reminding us that we should not to be too hasty in passing judgement for we never know how any of us would have reacted if placed in the same situation as Tim.
Gottlieb’s haunting debut novel is an excellent beginning and inarguably thought-provoking and I do hope to read more from this very promising author.
The above review was contributed by: The Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com, Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, Retired Title Attorney: Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, the couple meld Norm's words with Lily's art. To check out their travel site click on Sketchandtravel.comClick here to view Norm’s Reviews & Interviews.
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