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Posted August 25, 2011
Getting Oriented is an affecting debut novel by business author and journalist Wally Wood. Its wry, mournful narrative takes us on a journey into the mysteries of the human soul as represented by Japan. Phil Fletcher, the book's protagonist, is a recently-widowed, laid-off publishing executive. His life would seem pointless to him if he could feel anything. So when an old college buddy who owns a travel agency asks Phil to step in at the last minute, to guide a group of 12 Americans traveling through Japan, Phil aimlessly agrees. As befits the psychological truth of Phil's situation, and the needs of realistic fiction, Wood paints his main character as cynical, resentful and self-pitying. Yet, somehow, we keep rooting for him as Wood also lets the more touching aspects of Phil's humanity show through. For example: Phil is so devastated by the death of his wife, Helen, so devoted to her memory, that he maintains a heartbreaking vigil, writing her secret, confessional letters most nights on his computer. Wood deftly sketches the other tour members as a cross-section of irritable, easily distracted, middle class Americans. Their interactions with Phil and with each other are dryly funny, yet slowly, we learn that the arcs of their lives are as played out as Phil's. But as the journey proceeds, Phil and the others begin exhibiting the tiniest, most incremental signs of spiritual and psychological rebirth. The signs are small, even incidental. Yet they have dramatic impact on the journey and the travelers themselves. Meanwhile, we are treated to a stunning tour of Japan. The narrative subtly describes a thousand interesting facts and relevant truths about this most complex of nations-an ancient civilization that is among the world's most modern. To become oriented means to face east, to ascertain one's bearings, to be set right through adjustment to certain facts. And this novel draws significant power from the most elemental of facts: all things pass. Death, in all its forms, is inescapable. The acceptance of this truth comes slowly but inevitably to Phil and his 12 charges, as they journey toward the rising sun, toward insights and new beginnings in an ancient world. Getting Oriented is the perfect guide book for such a special tour.//
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