It’s 1968. Joe Mack is hitchiking through Europe. And I don’t care. Sorry Joe. I’m sure you’re a nice guy and all; and you don’t write badly. In fact, Mack has quite a pleasant turn of phrase; there are some real purple patches in his prose.

‘The early morning sun is a bright gold ball burning in a slice of sky above the horizon, and below thick clouds. I turn so its rays strike my back. Its warmth feels wonderful. Sunshine makes me stronger. Today is a good day and around the corner is a good breakfast’. That, for example, is a decent chunk of writing.

It’s not fantastic, but it’s sun-baked, lean, clean, streamlined, spare, hard-boiled American writing. Its debt to Bukowski, Kerouac, Chandler and Fante is clear but, I think, deliberately so: a passage that could be lifted straight from Ask the Dust or Playback is a powerful reminder that, however deep Mack gets into Europe, and however disillusioned he becomes with his homeland as he does so, he can never escape America.

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So that’s not only good writing; it’s clever writing. Authorial ability is not Joe Mack’s big problem. His big problem is that he does nothing to prove that his book is anything other than a vanity project. There’s a note on the back cover that reminds the reader to ‘remember he’s twenty-one’. Big deal. I’m twenty-one. More importantly, so were hundreds, even thousands of Americans who made the same journeys as Mack across Europe in the late sixties.

It was a momentous time, and the shared experience of this group of Americans living a crosscultural life in the golden age of counterculture is deserving of some serious historical documentation.

There’s simply nothing to suggest that Mack’s story alone, told with a personal pride that frequently spills into smugness, is worth anything on its own. Mack ends up seeming as annoyingly wide-eyed, as irritatingly oblivious to his own falsely presumed sense of his own specialness, as any Cornmarket tourist.

1 star