To say his bride leaves him at the altar is close enough—with the wedding and honeymoon planned and paid for, a few days before the big day she says, “I can’t go through with it.”
Franz’s pals buck him up. “Let’s party anyway,” they say. So Franz’s brother Kurt hops a plane to Orange County to help make phone calls. Everyone gathers for a drunken weekend at the wedding venue, which helps Franz feel supported. But it doesn’t heal his broken heart.
Franz starts out as a guy who’s out of touch with himself and the signals around him. He wants to change that. He harbors some guilt about not having been a good big brother, and he wants to make it up to Kurt. So he invites Kurt to go on the honeymoon with him. Why not? It’s already paid for and it would be an opportunity to get to know each other better.
The story goes back and forth in time and distance as the brothers come home between trips, usually visiting their beloved step-grandmother LaRue before heading out again. As travel alters the two young men, the changes in Franz’s outlook show up in the letters he writes to LaRue from the road. He begins as a buttoned-up, Orange County policy wonk. But as he travels, he lets go of his assumptions and even tosses his copy of Lonely Planet into the garbage. The guidebook is symbolic of adherence to convention. Franz is slowly releasing what he thought he knew and learning to judge the world on his own, regardless of the politics of left or right.
Even as Franz loosens up, so does his writing. The story begins as interesting, the writing serviceable. Wisner bounces briskly from one anecdote to another, his transitions brusque but efficient. But his language and images become more fluid as his experience branches out across the world. While he and Kurt visit eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, South America and Africa, they meet the locals (better than guidebooks) as well as other travelers, some who’ve been traveling for weeks, some for months or even years.
Throughout the book we wait for Franz and Kurt to resolve their relationship, which is at first friendly but not close. When they finally figure it out, it’s simple:
“…I’m sorry I’ve been a shitty brother.”
“What did you do?”
“Lose my Walkman?”
“I don’t even have your Walkman. What I mean is that sometimes I haven’t been the best brother, and I just wanted to say I’ll do better in the future.”
“Like when you got divorced two years ago.”
“What about it?” he said.
“Well, I wasn’t really there for you. I didn’t jump on a plane the next day and help you make calls.”
“I didn’t need to make any calls.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I knew that was eating at you,” he said.
“Doofus. Why didn’t you say anything earlier?”
“I dunno. Guess I was just trying to forget about that part of my life. Get on with things. And mess with you a bit.”
“Well, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it. I don’t want you crying and stuff for the rest of the trip.”
And that was it.
And that is it, the climax of the story, though it isn’t exactly a climax. No matter, because Honeymoon With My Brother isn’t exactly a story. It’s a progression of vignettes: running on the beach in Rio, ditching prostitutes in Moscow, conversing with the locals in a Vietnam village, a joyful encounter with African children that leaves Franz weeping.
During two years of travel Franz and Kurt come to know each other well, though they don’t talk much about this knowing. If there is an arc to the story it’s Franz’s letters to LaRue and the brothers’ visits to her on their trips home. When they arrive for her 100th birthday party she’s too weak to attend it. But their post cards, photos, and letters have filled two years for her—two years of travel she couldn’t have managed—two years of travel the brothers relished while young enough to make the most of it.
Franz and I are very different people. As the book progressed I enjoyed watching him change, not because he became more like me (he didn’t), but because he became himself.
Petrea Burchard is a Pasadena photographer, blogger, actress, voice-over talent and author. Her story “Portraits” is included in Literary Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, 2013). She contributes book reviews to Hometown Pasadena, for which we and our readers are very grateful. Find more Petrea doings, writings, and photography at PetreaBurchard.com and LivingVicuriously.
Camelot & Vine can be bought locally at Vroman’s, the Pasadena Museum of History, Webster’s Fine Stationers in Altadena and the Flintridge Bookstore and Coffeeshop. The ebook version is available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo, Diesel, Smashwords, and the Sony eReader.