Born to Run

Bruce Chatwin and Raymond Carver both emerged as if out of nowhere in the same year, 1976. Each derived, from Hemingway, a style that embodied a world and a way of life, yet prompted envious imitation by other writers.

Each became a byword for a school of writing (Chatwinesque, Carveresque) and then died (Carver in August 1988, Chatwin six months later), leaving a devoted wife to manage the flow of unpublished works and testimonials. Each was dismissed as a phony by some critics. And though each was loved and looked after, each was essentially lonely. It can be said that Chatwin's protagonist is a person who fled the boredom Carver depicted, or that Carver's stories tell what happens to nomads who stay home.

Compulsive traveler Bruce Chatwin
photo: from Bruce Chatwin: A Biography, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday
Compulsive traveler Bruce Chatwin

Bruce Chatwin got away, though, and that brute fact, as much as his prose style or his eye for a story, is the key to his appeal. In the post-Cold War world of open borders and frequent-flyer miles, Chatwin embodies a powerful ideal: the compulsive traveler, who is unclear whether he is running away or running toward something. If he hadn't lived the way he did, and written so well about it, the Lonely Planet people would have had to invent him.

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