Conversations and Adventures by Simone Diston is a spirited and engaging collection of true-to-life stories about meeting different people in a city and starting conversations out of the blue. Everyone she meets on her travels is asking big questions about life, with obstacles in their lives to overcome. Together they reach new insights into big questions about the human condition, such as equality or identity, and smaller issues as well, such as dating.
The premise is a good one: it’s a bit like a road movie, only Diston’s protagonist stays in the same city and meets new people in her travels around the city, all strangers. In a world where people mostly keep to themselves, it’s a refreshing antidote to people’s everyday alienation. People are usually more cut off from each other, so while Conversations and Adventures isn’t necessarily a fantasy, it is at least hopeful about a world where people are more open with each other. With each new encounter, the people she meets offer new wisdom about life and love.
Unfortunately, though the premise is strong, the insights given by those she meets are not always fully explored. In one piece she’s thinking about the phrase, “All men are created equal” and what that means. It’s an interesting idea, but Diston doesn’t delve too deeply into all facets of that question. Asking the question is only part of the insight, and there needed to be more of an answer to the inquiry. Here a man walking his dog opines about the nature of identity:
It’s like this reserve: there are different paths that can lead you into different directions. Whichever direction you take is your identity.”
That’s an interesting idea, but that’s the main insight of the piece. There is more conversation leading up to the insight than there is about the insight itself.
At times, this nonchalance is effective. After all, this more like life: conversations with strangers aren’t always eloquent and precise, nor are our inner thoughts. There is a breezy looseness to Diston’s storytelling. However, this style sometimes leaves a reader wanting. She moves onto a new subject just as she was getting started. Perhaps the ideas of a single chapter could have been expanded, rather than focusing on so many different ideas that each doesn’t get full attention.
In the book, Diston refers to herself as an “intermediate” writer. She acknowledges that she’s still learning the craft. That said, Diston clearly loves to write, no matter what the subject. You can sense that she’s always eager to get her thoughts on the page. The passion for writing is there, certainly, but this passion isn’t always lucidly expressed for the reader. Though Diston’s writing is well-meaning and spirited, the book reads a bit like an early draft.
All in all, Conversations and Adventures is perhaps better suited as a blog than a fully realized fiction work. The drive to write is there, the love of ideas and putting words down on paper is there in droves, but each idea is not fully conveyed. There’s a great book in here, but each section needed to be fleshed out more to make the book as moving as it could be.