London, Paris, Germany, Africa, provincial Holland, the worlds of Corsica and Puerto Rico. There are as many moods represented, from the good host and careerist in “Algebra” to the haunted heroes and heroines in “Zombies” and “World’s End.”
Most of the people are transplanted or have tried to graft themselves onto a new culture, and they struggle against the odds to maintain their humor, to write, to fall in love or keep their marriages intact. Michael Insole, in “Algebra,” wants to cook meals for famous people; Professor Bloodworth, in “The Odd-Job Man,” is making a raid, for the purposes of scholarship, on a distinguished poet. In “Words Are Deeds,” Sheldrick glimpses a pretty woman in a restaurant and sets out to marry her; Mr. Hand, in “The Imperial Icehouse,” wants nothing more than to transport a shipment of ice from one side of a West Indian Island to the other.
The novella-length “Greenest Island” is the story of two young castaways discovering adulthood and the delusions of romance on a tropical island, “Acknowledgments” and “Yard Sale” are short comic sketches and yet offer variations on Theroux’s theme: the undoing of innocents abroad, as farce, as tragedy, and -- in the frightener, “White Lies” -- as a ghost story.
John Haase in the Los Angeles Times speaks of Theroux as having “the eye of A. J. Liebling, the nose of Durrell, and almost the literary scope of Edmund Wilson. His metaphors and similes are like rare-cut diamonds.”