Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Summer 2003

The City of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron

The City of Your Final Destination
Peter Cameron
Plume/Penguin, New York
312 pp. $14.00

Peter Cameron’s new novel, The City of Your Final Destination recounts the efforts of doctoral candidate Omar Razaghi to secure approval from a late author’s executors to write an authorized biography. The tale takes the Kansas-based Iranian-Canadian Razaghi on a curious trip to the wilds of Uruguay, where his motives, emotions, and life directions are diverted then irrevocably altered by the three eccentric executors—the dead writer’s widow, mistress, and gay brother.

The plot turns in City are well thought out, and the characters breathe with the sharp similitude of life, thanks largely to Cameron’s incredible command of dialogue. In the crafting of verbal interplay, the author shows a talent for interweaving comic and demi-tragic elements in a way that simultaneously mirrors and dramatizes the ironies of existence. Indeed, much of the rhetoric brings to mind a sense of the theatrical, in the best sense of the word—think Oscar Wilde or G.B. Shaw with a dash of Pinter or Albee. Masterful work. Were they wise, the crowd of hungry New York theatre producers would beat a path to this author’s door with checkbooks at the ready. Clearly one of the top two or three dialogue writers working today, Cameron mixes a dry biting martini of conversational elegance that intoxicates but never makes one feel sodden or beyond the reach of sobering reality. His characters speak with both subtlety and profundity, a conjunction often worked towards by literary persons but seldom achieved.

The only small negative aspect of The City of Your Final Destination (and this is most likely a case of his gift for dialogue setting an impossibly high standard for the rest of the narrative) is Cameron’s slightly under-muscled approach to structure and descriptive detail. Since the novel is dialogue heavy, this does not detract as much as it might in a more plot-centrist format; also, given that this kind of understated approach is de rigueur in mainstream literature, most readers probably won’t note the difference. However, Cameron does occasionally lapse into long strings of statically-structured pronoun-verb/ auxiliary verb sentences that dull the reader with their collective monotone similitude. This abbreviated passage of consecutive sentences from early in the book gives a sense of this problem:

She was now copying ...  She crossed the room and looked out ...  She looked up ... There were no clouds. She heard gravel crunching ... He had come up from the village ...  Perhaps they would have hot water tonight. She could take a bath. She watched him walk ... He stood at the end ... She went back and looked at her painting ... It had not. She heard a car ... The car drove away ... She crossed the room and looked ... They were eating now ...                  

One can forgive Cameron for two reasons. One: this kind of issue generally constitutes more a slight editorial failure than any authorial failure since it is often hard for authors to gain the distance necessary to spot such drone stretches. Thus the importance of the editor. Two: again, the dialogue is so sculpted, ubiquitous, and subtly dynamic that it is easy for the reader to glide over the few bumpy spots on the way to what is an altogether stimulating and evocative read.

If you’re a writer wanting to learn the art of dialogue or a teacher wishing to disseminate such knowledge, The City of Your Final Destination should be part if not parcel of your required coursework. Highly recommended.