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'Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It' by Geoff Dyer

British novelist's musings on life's journeys a real trip

Sunday, January 12, 2003

By John Freeman

Someone tell me how to get Geoff Dyer's job. For 10 years, this English critic and novelist has circled the globe writing about his restlessness in heavily fictionalized nonfiction, or heavily autobiographical fiction.

 
 
"Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It"

By Geoff Dyer

Pantheon ($22)

   
 

When he moved to Paris in the early 1990s to write an updated "Tender is the Night," he wound up churning out three books, all of them about a man flaking off and not writing a book.

Now, Dyer has bundled together tales of his other humorous bouts with insolence -- in Bali, Cambodia, Rome and more -- and come up with this meditation on the lure of someplace new and the pleasures of just being. If you're the kind of person who fantasizes about disappearing into the throng of some European city, here is your bible.

The book's first piece, "Horizontal Drift," starts off with Dyer and a girlfriend delivering a car from Los Angeles to New York. The two are using the free automobile as a way to see the heartland, just as Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise did four decades earlier.

Along the way, they pass through New Orleans, a town Dyer loves so much that he later returns and lives there for three months.

What follows reads like a game of intercontinental hopscotch, played by paramours with funny names -- one is called Dazed, another dubs herself Circle -- and buddies who really enjoy their psychotropic drugs.

One chapter revolves around a rain-sodden day spent high on mushrooms in Amsterdam, another unfolds in Paris, where Dyer feeds skunk (a powerful hybrid form of marijuana) to an unsuspecting female companion and then walks her about the city.

Were it not for the copyright date, this series of vignettes could easily be mistaken as a slice of life from the druggy 1960s.

For instance, the book's title refers to a trip Dyer took through Southeast Asia, where he encountered lots of people doing the "self-journeying" thing. All of them were too busy baking their noodles to actually do anything as physical as yoga.

As a joke, Dyer comes up with the idea of writing a self-help book for these dropouts from conventional life.

And so, over the course of 250 pages, he charts a journey from existential restlessness to achievement of "The Zone," which for Dyer amounts to a sense of peace in just being where he is, not being tortured by the fact there is a somewhere else out there he could be visiting.

Reaching this state of beatitude and making the pursuit of it into a good story are two different things. Happily, Dyer manages to do both here.

While another writer might have us yawning during such stretches, Dyer is such a lively prose stylist that one actually slows down to savor his lively turns of phrase. It's a very effective narrative strategy, for the reader begins to treat this book as Dyer would have him treat life -- insolently, decadently, with nary an eye on the clock.

John Freeman is a freelance writer living in New York.

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