Cover image for The walking tour
The walking tour
Davis, Kathryn, 1946-
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Physical Description:
264 pages ; 22 cm
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It is the turn of this century. Two couples -- businessman Bobby Rose and his artist wife Carole Ridingham, his partner Coleman Snow and Snow's wife Ruth Farr -- have gone on a walking tour in Wales, during which a fatal accident occurs. The question of what happened preoccupies not only an ensuing negligence trial but also the narrator, Bobby and Carole's daughter. Susan lives alone in her parents' house near the coast of Maine, addressing us from a future in which property no longer shapes destiny, a position providing unusual perspective on the way we live now. Assisted by court transcripts, a notebook computer containing Ruth Farr's journal, as well as by the menacing young vagrant who's taken to camping on her doorstep, Susan ultimately lays open the moral predicament at the heart of the book: we are culpable beings, even though we live in a world of imperfect knowledge. By turns dazzling and dark, as dangerous and entrancing as the Welsh landscape it describes, The Walking Tour is part mystery story, part shrewd visionary meditation on the uneasy marriage of art and commerce.

Author Notes

Kathryn Davis is also the author of novels, "The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf" & "Hell." The recipient of a Kafka Prize, she teaches at Skidmore College & lives with her husband & their daughter in Vermont.

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Reviews 3

Booklist Review

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Robert Rose, his wife, Carole, his business partner, Coleman Snow, and Snow's wife, Ruth, are on a walking tour of Wales. There is a fatal accident and, subsequently, a negligence trial. Susan, the daughter of Robert and Carole, is unconvinced of the facts and tries to piece together in her own mind what happened, using the court transcripts, letters from her mother, and Ruth's electronic journal. Susan narrates her story from an undefined future, which makes it somewhat difficult to keep straight in which time period events are happening. However, the novel's focus isn't so much on the mysterious accident. Susan's is the voice through which Davis contemplates all things profound, and it is a minor character--an obnoxious, prophetic vagrant named Monkey--who imposes his life and views on Susan and allows Davis to play devil's advocate. The characters are interesting and there is strength in the story, but being spoon-fed Davis' revelations may leave a bitter taste. --Carolyn Kubisz

Publisher's Weekly Review

Davis's fourth and thoroughly engaging novel (after Hell) is a witty blend of genres: mystery, courtroom drama, futuristic tale and a reworking of Welsh myth. In some unspecified year in the 21st century, when ideologies have transformed to the point where "the whole idea of edge... [has]... become a thing of the past," Susan R. Rose hides away on Maine's coast, in what was once her family home, reconstructing the events that led to her mother's disappearance and certain death during a walking tour through Wales, when Susan was 13. Equipped with letters and cards sent by her mother, a famous painter; a stack of unlabeled photos; a transcript from a wrongful death suit; and a laptop notebook her mother's oldest friend (and deepest rival) kept, Susan pieces together the spats, jealousies and sudden couplings of the tourists on a pilgrimage. Although she is at first alone, Susan's privacy is invaded by Monkey, a boy encamped nearby. He's a Strag, a member of a futuristic culture that is propertyless and thus lawless, "a triumph of the virtual." As in any good mystery, several possible suspects emerge with a variety of reasons to have killed Carole Ridingham Rose (even Monkey could hold a clue), yet Davis manages to keep this plot line alive while ingeniously weaving her imaginative settings. The playfulness of Davis's writing is irresistible. Laced with fairy tales, neologisms and poems, her prose is clever, sometimes dazzling, skating lightly over complex ideas that otherwise might bog down the narrative. Looking at an Andy Warhol painting, Susan's father says to her mother, "I like it. It's like money; it skips the middle step." One insistent theme surfacing in this highly original novel is the relationships between property and morality, between time and space. Davis's take on these subjects is intellectually rigorous, while the suspense remains satisfyingly taut. Author tour. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Businessman Bobby Rose and software guru Coleman Snow anticipate that their new joint venture will make them wealthy and also revolutionize the reader/text environment (totally interactive interface!) but not that it will revolutionize society as well. Their wealth at the sale of the enterprise leads them and their wives on a less-than-idyllic walking tour of Wales with an oddly mixed ensemble, where a mysterious fatality occurs. From the future, Rose's daughter tries to unravel the events of the tour from her ruined estate, drawing on court records, journals, and an old laptop. Davis (Labrador, etc.) offers an unusual hybrid of sf, mystery, and literary fiction that keeps the reader guessing. One quibble: some intriguing facets of the future (e.g. "Strag culture") are hinted at too often before helpful elaboration kicks in. Otherwise, an excellent choice for all public libraries.ÄRobert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



part one Quick & Dirty The end of all things is nigh: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves, for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. -I peter 4:7-8 Time passed. Or at least that's one way to get from there, my famous mother's infamous summer in Wales, to here, the ruined house and acreage she used to call home. "darling," begins a postcard of vine- draped Tintern Abbey in the moonlight, "as u can see, despite dr minton's dire warnings, i haven't left behind what bobby calls my horror vacui. the faces should be recognizable tho disguised as bees." Her name was Carole Ridingham even after she married my father, Robert Rose, or Bobby, as he liked to be called, the way Napoleon preferred the Little Corporal. Bobby was the founder and original CEO of SnowWrite & RoseRead, a powerful man and hot, in the vernacular, unlike my mother, who eventually swelled up with the Change and never came back down. But she was a genius, it didn't matter. As for the faces (deliriously inked into any leftover space on the card, front and back), they include Ruth Farr's and her husband, Coleman's (the Snow of SnowWrite), and owe a lot to the portraits Blake drew of his friends, with flea heads, etc., that my mother made a point of seeing at the Tate while Bobby flirted with waitresses, and my so-called Aunt Ruth recorded her every move in her journal, and my so-called Uncle Coleman snapped photos covertly like a spy. The women's agendas may have been more overt, but don't be fooled, the men had agendas too, not the least of which was to figure out what to do with all the money they made five years earlier when they sold the business. Everyone has an agenda, me included, though we've been repeatedly reminded that the past's off- limits except to seers. Eyes straight ahead, let the dead wake the dead, as the saying goes. The "dire warnings" refer to my mother's mental condition. At thirteen she was diagnosed borderline schizophrenic, and was put on drugs that made her thrust her tongue from her mouth in a way that looked less like a tongue than a nose, especially when she was trying to concentrate. My poor doomed mother-either sailing away from me across the meadow in her white beekeeping gloves and veil, in which case I couldn't see the tongue, or painting in the garden house she used as a studio, in which case I could but just barely, my view hampered by the gooseberry bushes outside the window and Bobby, who usually tried to keep me out. He said he was protecting her, but we all knew better; he was keeping her to himself, which I think was how he thought he could make sure she'd be his forever. Aside from the tongue, I almost never saw signs of what was referred to as "inappropriate behavior." Later we'd have dinner prepared by Mrs. Koop, our humorless cook, and served by some cute-faced and inept maid-deluxe treatment even then. A long honey- colored table polished with beeswax and lit with beeswax candles, at each place one of the ever so subtly unmatched Blue Willow plates, and above the sideboard the plangent reds and golds and deep umbers of 492. My God: bsuf en daube, mushrooms and pearl onions, petits pois, crcme brulée. In those days we ate like kings. Eventually 492 (the number of objects in the painting) got confiscated along with smaller and darker 53 that used to hang above my parents' bed. My mother said I was counting like a bank teller when I told her I couldn't find more than forty-nine. I'll never forget the smell in that room: witch hazel, honey, wet dirt. Out the window the silver light of the Maine seacoast and on the bed Uncle Tony sitting with his head in his arms, sobbing. But that came later. The idea for the walking tour began with Ruth Farr, whose urge to follow in the footsteps of the legendary Manawydan on his journey through Bronze Age Wales was yet one more doomed attempt to seem as interestingly compulsive as my mother. Ruth was always saying things like au fond I'm a dancer or fashion is my passion with a perfectly straight face, her idea this time having been to write the kind of historical novel where fact vanishes in a haze of myth and romance. A Fall of Mist it was to be called, or maybe The Fall of Mist, and based on an ancient tale about Manawydan found in the Mabinogion. A plan doomed to fail, if ever there was one. Like you could ever hope to block out your own dull self and with it the present -- a gang of Strag boys with measuring cups -- going bang bang bang on your door. Sometimes four or five of them, sometimes only the one, bangiing away in that preposterous dust-caked wig . . . Ruth was about the same age as Manawydan when he made the trip, though he was sent by his father and ended his days in the Otherworld, whiile Ruth & Co. bogged down on the Gower peninsula. Also, while Manawydan was known as one of the "Three Ungrasping Chieftains," and took discretion for the better part of valor, Ruth never had a problem appropriating someone else's property. Like many weak people, she was obsessed with the idea of fairness and, consequently, litigious. Without her, there'd have been no trial after the disaster at Gower. According to Ruth's journal, she and Carole first met in Mrs. Hecht's second-grade class at Henry Clay Elementary School, where Carole (a new girl and good at memorizing) got the part of Miss Springtime even though she was fat and couldn't act, while string-bean Ruthie (the former apple of Mrs. Hecht's eye) was stuck playing a worm. Naturally they weren't friends. Actual friendship, if you could call it that, came thirty years later, when Carole's good- looking husband chose Ruth's clever husband to be his right-hand man, and the next thing Ruth knew she and Coleman were walking up a long driveway bordered on both sides by acres and acres of grass, and there was a large blond woman sloping toward them, at her heels a dog so tall and with legs so long and thin it looked like it was going to tip over. "Heavens," the woman said, "little Ruthie Farr," but Ruth didn't actually recognize her childhood nemesis until the dog began to bark, and in place of a total stranger there was seven-year-old Carole Ridingham, eyes fierce with apprehension as Mrs. Hecht handed back the spelling tests. Odd, Mrs. Hecht remarked, they'd both made exactly the same mistake. C-A-W-T. You'd almost suspect . . . and she shook her head, unable to entertain such a sinister idea. Meanwhile it was as if no time had passed at all: Carole and Ruth still couldn't take their eyes off each other, like serial holders of the same title vainly trying to figure out what they had in common. Maybe they were hampered by their jealousy, a key element under the circumstances. Nicest looks? Most famous? Best husband? In those days Ruth did everything she could to play up her naturally snow white skin, ebony black hair, and blood red lips. Women wanted to look like dead young girls; it was the style, meaning another way to put Death on the wrong track. I remember being afraid of her, particularly a large beauty mark on her upper lip that I mistook for a bee, and I remember the frail hippie gardener doing a trick with a hollyhock to calm me down. The glowing pond, the humming bee boxes, the thrillingly insane smell of heliotrope. Out on what my mother called the piazza, in the good old summertime. That's where they met up with Bobby. He stuck a drink in Coleman's hand and said there was more on the way. No one smoked; a drink was the best you could hope for after having been forced to watch your husband's jaw drop open at the sight of the girl you thought you'd seen the last of years ago, when her parents mercifully shipped her off to boarding school. Pudgy Carole Ridingham had turned into the kind of woman men put on a pedestal, though I'm sure it was less to worship than to observe safely from a distance. "Cawing crows," Ruth wrote, "drifted through the vapid blue like cinders from the furnace of my jealous heart." Except really there was no cause for jealousy. What interested Uncle Coleman in my mother never had anything to do with sex; it had to do with power. He knew that if he could win my mother, he could win anything. That was her talent, to make people feel that way -- I should know. But "vapid"? Ruth must have been thinking of someplace else. Copyright (c) 1999 by Kathryn Davis. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. Excerpted from The Walking Tour by Kathryn Davis All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.