Breaking Our Reality
What do we really know about our own reality? Will we ever break the stigma of mental health and understand how to treat trauma? And is there a higher power driving our subconscious to make the decisions we do?
Donald Altman’s novel, Travelers, attempts to answer these big questions, and in many ways it both succeeds and fails in doing so across its 248 pages. On the one hand, Travelers is a quick read, one with a really intriguing hook and a solid first half. Not only that but the themes and ideas expressed in this are beautifully woven into the narrative.
On the other hand, a rushed ending and a tendency to deep dive into overly-explained science and psychological terms takes you out of the story a little too often than one may like.
The author, Donald Altman, has written a litany of different books about mindfulness and spirituality over the years, and to begin with he does admit to not having that much experience writing fiction. And I guess, this book almost walks the line between being both fiction and non-fiction, bouncing between the two states with varying degrees of success.
The story itself centers on psychiatrist Ben Banks, who’s suffering from a great trauma and loss in his life. He has an estranged relationship with his wife Beth, and as a result plunges head-first into his own work, attempting to block out the demons that threaten to haunt him when he walks in through the front door.
When Ben is given a new patient to oversee called Mason, he’s forced to confront not just his deepest fears but also his own beliefs in how the world works. Part of this “call to action” comes in the form of a mysterious wanderer called Traveller Jacki, who becomes more integral to the story as the plot develops.
All of this is fantastic and as mentioned before, the first half really sucks you into the world. The point of view character, Ben, is easy to empathize with and slowly peeling away the layers of his own psyche to see the root cause of his trauma is a definite highlight. Likewise, the fact that Mason is the perceived “chosen one” (at least early on) is a really smart way of integrating the ideas into this story in an unexpected way.
The second half however, is not as strong. The story takes on a more fantastical edge and while interesting to read, there are a few contrivances that crop up along the way. The final act as well is a little disappointing and it could have easily done with another 40-50 pages to flesh everything out and heighten the tension. Instead, the conclusion is wrapped up quite hastily, and I would have liked more from the resolution between Beth and Ben.
The prose itself is pretty good though, and the dialogue in particular feels accurate and correlates to the characters nicely. During meetings where Ben has to share his findings, or attends therapy with Mason, the pages fly by and it’s very easy to get sucked into this story.
As far as world-building and descriptive work goes, there’s a great effort to explain Ben’s world and detail everything – but almost to a fault. I mentioned before about the scientific terminology used, but there are occasions where 2 or 3 paragraphs full of explanations careers into that aforementioned feel of being non-fiction. Sometimes it works well but other times it’s quite jarring.
Personally, I think the structure of this book would have worked much more effectively if this was placed at beginning of each chapter before embracing the fiction side of things, but that’s more of a personal opinion than a deterrent to the actual structure of Travelers!
There’s an abundance of descriptions about trees and flowers here too, although this is actually smartly integrated into the plot and takes on a much deeper meaning when you stop to think about it. Given the plot is about becoming in-tune with your surroundings and nature as a whole, what seems like a negative in the moment, ends up becoming one of the cleverer elements of the story!
Overall though, Travelers is an interesting but flawed read. It’s a book with a lot of potential and a great opening, sadly let down by a rushed ending. Despite that, this is still worth a read, with an uplifting message and some profound thematic elements that’ll leave you thinking about your own reality after you’ve finished reading.
Travelers by Donald Altman is scheduled to release on January 27th 2023. If you like the sound of this book, you can pre-order it HERE!
Verdict - 6/10