act-of-god-while-on-vacation47l__aa160_2Acts of God While on Vacation
by Richard Tillotson (Malaysia 1967-69)
CreateSpace, $14.95 (paper) $4.00 (Kindle)
370 pages
May 2011

 

 

Reviewed by Rosemary Casey (Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands - TTPI 1987-89)

When asked to review Acts of God While on Vacation, I should have googled it to see what others said before I made a commitment. For example, others reported the book “disarmingly flip and fast-paced” (Honolulu Star-Bulletin), and the “diversity of spiritual belief systems makes this open-minded novel as entertaining as it is enlightening” (Publishers Weekly). So I opened up Paul Tillotson’s book anticipating a good read. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed, and I had a hard time returning to the book once I put it down, making it an “obligation” to write the review rather than a task of enjoyment. I delayed my task, until one evening I asked myself why I was procrastinating finishing the book and writing the review. I realized I just didn’t like it, and I didn’t want to make the author, a fellow returned Peace Corps Volunteer, feel bad. In talking with a friend who had also read it, I learned others had reactions similar to mine. I decided that writers know they’re not going to meet the expectations of every reader of their work - they expect some negative reviews and hope for more good ones than bad. So, I felt compelled to write something constructive about Acts of God While on Vacation, knowing not everyone will react as I did.

Basically, the plot is a series of stories that come together in Honolulu at an anthropological conference on shamanism. The individual stories shifted from character to character, first each being set in a context. The reader is then provided more details as each character traveled towards the point of convergence. This plot process is not unusual and generally is one I like for introducing characters and leading the reader in the author’s direction to the culmination of the story. What I didn’t like was the inclusion of so much sexual activity by the characters as the plot developed. I really got put off by it and I felt it detracted from the story as I wanted it to read. For those who don’t mind, other aspects are interesting and even enjoyable.

There are four main characters: Gordon Coburn, a young hotel manager in Honolulu who cannot keep up with all the women who want to sleep with him; Kip Stallybrass, a graduate student anthropologist studying headhunters in Borneo, who needs to make his mark in the academic world through publications and conference presentations to be guaranteed a faculty position at a university; Lady Gloria Ryder, kind of an airhead aristocratic Londoner playgirl; and a paparazzi photographer, Mislov Rapolovitch, who is as vile and despicable a character as one could find - certainly he fit my idea of what a paparazzi is and does. The only character I really liked, however, and possibly because of my own Peace Corps background, was the young anthropologist, Kip Stallybrass. Interestingly, I was not put off by the sexual activity and innuendos in the development of Kip and his story. Perhaps that says more about me than about either the character or the author.

Honolulu and Hawaii are lovely places, filled with cultural experiences for those who wish to find them. The author certainly knows the place and the people, and his descriptions are some of the best I’ve seen in books where Hawaii is the locale. That part I truly appreciated and commend Tillotson on his work. It seemed he also knew quite a bit about Borneo and travel in Southeast Asia, given his own experience as in Malaysia as a PCV, as well as London, as those descriptions, too, were interesting and well presented. The author’s personal knowledge of the plot locations added some spice to the mix and kept me connected while I was reading - until I put the book down. Unfortunately it was the sense of obligation that got me to pick it back up again.

In summary, should a reader want a different sort of ‘travel’ book, Acts of God While on Vacation might prove to be well-spent money and time. I’ll likely pass my copy on to someone else without further comment and hope s/he will like it better than I did.

Rosemary Casey (Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands - TTPI 1987-89) served as an elementary and secondary school teachers in Rota, Mariana Islands, teaching English and home economics. After her Peace Corps tour, she worked from 1987 to 1989 as a contractor for the Peace Corps doing language and cultural materials development and consultation in the Peace Corps Pacific countries. She then was an APCD for Program and Training from 1989 to 1992 in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia and Republic of Palau. Since then, she has worked as a Peace Corps Recruiter at the University of Hawaii. Today, she is President of the RPCVs of Hawaii.