People I Met Hitchhiking On USA Highways: A Disturbing Delight
Jeffrey Penn May
1/9/2006 6:08:35 PM

Eric Chaetís People I Met Hitchhiking On USA Highways [Turnaround Artist Productions] is not genre fiction or tell-all memoir. Readers looking for slick suspense thrillers with psychotic killers torturing pretty blondes, dinosaurs eating lawyers or drama in real life tales about alcoholic celebrities need to look elsewhere.

Perhaps those who appreciate complexity of thought, and those who enjoy Kerouac and Brautigan or Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg may find Chaet more familiar; however, he is not, nor does he strive or pretend to be any of those fine writers. Eric Chaet is unique, his prose calculated to make you stop. And think. Sometimes those thoughts can be disturbing, depressing or, at the very least, troubling.

The searing clarity in the confusion and chaos (reflected in his organizational style) is painful as it forces us to honestly reflect on the human condition. But Chaet does not leave us mired in this despair. He provides moments of illumination and pure joy, reconnecting us with simple pleasures, where a birdís song brings us "washed clean Ė back from defeat, from history, from being overwhelmed."

Hitchhiking with Chaet, we meet character after character struggling to survive as he does on just a few dollars stretched over months of wandering. Often, in following him on this lonely journey we feel the same raw edge, the same panic, and we experience demeaning work where we can almost hear the nuts and bolts rattling around in our heads. Yet we are better for the experience.

Eric Chaet is aware of his writing style. "Even my sentences are unusual and frequently difficult." If you applied "writerís workshop" parameters to his work, then you might bleed him to death. His use of ampersands and "tho" may be distracting at first, and Iím not sure what purpose they serve. (Perhaps changing them to ands and though might provide the answer.) But donít mistake this for lack of poetic skill or intelligence. Some messages require an experimental touch and a unique pattern. To dismiss it, as one reviewer has, as a "bastardization of Into the Wild" is missing the point entirely. If you accept the originality of his work, then you will find knowledge and truth.

Perhaps Chaetís declaration on page 98 regarding his unusual style should have been at the beginning but, as Chaet might say, the beginning is not necessarily where you might begin. "I have gone back & forth in timeÖ." He also adapts various points of view; however, each character is pure, unmistakable, Eric Chaet, and he speaks with empathy and understanding.

It would be a mistake for us to view Chaet as anything but a unique mind and spirit worth our attention. He must be read simply because there is no one else writing as he does. And, fortunately for us, Eric Chaet, the hitchhiker and survivor, is "still alive!"

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