The Tourists
Jeff Hobbs
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Buy *The Tourists* by Jeff Hobbs online

The Tourists
Jeff Hobbs
Simon & Schuster
336 pages
April 2007
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This story begins with a memory from eight years ago when the unnamed narrator is in his junior year at Yale. It is late spring, and he sits with Ethan Hoevel watching the drama division perform scenes from "Love's Labors Lost." Suddenly, both he and Ethan look across the stage and see the new couple, David Taylor and beautiful Samona Ashley, both star students in Yale's tightly enclosed and insular universe.

As Ethan steadily gazes at David lovingly wrapping his arms behind Samona, he thinks about his affair her. But the dull ache of longing for Samona also rises in our narrator's chest; when he looks towards her, he too becomes besotted. Regrettably, however, neither man can seem to break free from the strictures of their obsession.

Moving to New York after four years of college, the narrator works as a journalist, eking out a living while he drifts though semi-poverty. He does get some work writing small articles for magazines and local newspapers, and he also manages to make a living covering restaurant openings and book parties - enough at least to pay the rent as he steadily morphs to a "jadedly self-aware fading of ambition."

Meanwhile, his friends continue to bask in their financial and materialistic successes. David Taylor signs on with Merrill Lynch before moving on to make millions of dollars in a start-up hedge fund. In the meantime, he also marries Samona, hoping and praying that she will move with him to suburban Connecticut where they can buy a nice house and hopefully start a family.

For his part, Ethan becomes a successful industrial designer, garnering a reputation as the darling of the wealthy Manhattan cultural elite, often causing a flood of admiration whenever he enters a room. He's sexy, seductive and totally egotistic; when our narrator bumps into Ethan at a party after not having seen him for two and a half years, he automatically fawns over him and is the first to admit that he's been following the trajectory of Ethan's career for quite some time.

When Ethan's "deeply probing eyes" once again encapsulate our narrator, he unexpectedly finds himself reflecting on their past together and their passionate affair at Yale, and how part of him wants constantly to be a character in the story of Samona and Ethan, and also to be standing beside them in their newfound glory.

Unfortunately, all David's wealth and security is giving him little satisfaction. He's plagued by the fact that he's leading a boring and empty life defined by interest rates, a six-figure salary, and the constant blank walls of his luxury high-rise apartment in Battery Park. In all his years in New York, the only real risk is that he married Samona at the tender age of twenty-six.

For Samina, however, the past few years have been a rollercoaster ride as she tries to lessen the banality and boredom of her marriage to David by plunging into the successes of her new designer printing business. When she passionately reconnects with the narcissistic Ethan, the physical release of the affair astounds her in such a way that she almost loses control of herself.

Always the confidant, our narrator ends up a cipher for all the action as he tries to live vicariously through his rich friends. He's also in danger of collapsing into a quagmire of moral certainty when he realizes that the one woman he is truly interested in is not only married but is also having an affair with a gay man who once had feelings for him.

Deeply reflective of the works of Brett Easton Ellis (indeed, Ellis is this author's mentor and friend) Jeff Hobbs plays out his foursome against the vapid world of the Manhattan privileged, a world that exists just beneath the surface of psuedo-celebrity. The author's themes are obsession, unrequited passion, and the riddle of sexual fluidity as these characters end up seducing each other in various ways.

These people are mostly vain, self-absorbed and habitually unsympathetic, defined more by their frantic need to get ahead than anything else. In the end, it is the small manipulations they allow each other that is most symptomatic of their wider search for meaning in a world where they simply drift in and out of one another's lives, never making a commitment and never really finding happiness.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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