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Never Go Full Pai
Jeffrey Eng. Ingram, $2.99 e-book (214p) ASIN B07Z33KPKS
Eng channels his backpacking experience into a heartfelt, adventure-filled debut novel about a pair of carefree Americans traveling in present-day Southeast Asia. After Charlie graduates from high school, his postal worker father dies from leukemia, leaving Charlie his cherished film camera and money for a “National Geographic photo shoot.” Charlie had always told his father he wanted more out of life than a routine-filled job, so the money and vote of confidence carry special meaning. In Vietnam, Charlie delights in taking photos of noodle shops, bartenders, women on a park bench, and boxers. Remaining self-conscious about his limp from an injury sustained as a child, naive Charlie idolizes Ace, an older oddball American who takes him under his wing and shows him the way of hostels, parties, booze, and women. Ace’s exuberance and confidence, though, mask a difficult childhood and bitterness over a lost love. After Charlie announces plans for a meditation retreat in Pai, Thailand, Ace disparages those who go “full Pai,” being sucked into tourist clichés such as fastening dream catchers to their bags or wearing elephant pants, and Charlie wonders if he’ll see his new friend again. While the repeated scenes of drunkenness and womanizing wear thin, especially since the female characters are underdeveloped, Charlie’s earnest observations and Ace’s battle with his demons have appeal. There are a lot of potholes on the road to Charlie and Ace’s self-discovery, but those who can look past the novel’s faults will find it packs its share of rewards. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 10/16/2020