‘The Promise of Elsewhere’ by Brad Leithauser – Not the Journey of a Lifetime


‘The Promise of Elsewhere’ by Brad Leithauser (2019) – 331 pages

‘The Promise of Elsewhere’ is many things. It is part travelogue of Rome, London, and Greenland. It is part comedy of a down-and-out loser confronting his life. It is part romance, part self-absorbed analysis of a life lived. But throughout, the author offers the reader no compelling reason to read this story.

Louie Hake is a guy in his early forties with a lot of problems. He was a professor at a small Michigan college which he considers is below him. His wife Florence has taken up with her director in an amateur theatre company, and these two are arrested one night in January for a violation of section 750.338b of the Michigan Penal Code , or “gross indecency between male and female persons” in a car. Now Florence has moved out of the house and is staying with her boyfriend ironically on one of the Virgin Islands. Besides that, Louie has been diagnosed with a macular eye condition that may eventually cause him to lose his sight. Besides that, he is manic-depressive or bipolar and sees a psychiatrist.

Louie gets an inheritance of about $20,000 and decides to leave his job and take the Journey of a Lifetime starting with Rome. After Rome, he travels to London and Iceland, but our main character’s travel observations are for the most part mundane, forgettable, and self-absorbed. There are attempts at humor, but mainly you feel sorry for Louie’s plight. Ultimately this novel turned into more a slog than a jaunt for me.

Louie is definitely not enough of a compelling character to sustain such a long novel.

The only bright parts of the novel for me were when Louie meets someone interesting on his travels. When good things start to happen to this ordinary guy, we take notice and root for him. The London section where Louie meets a woman who has been stood up on her honeymoon is particularly a ray of sunshine in this mostly dismal novel.

If this world had its priorities straight, statues would be erected to the kindest people, for in the whole history of civilization, what achievement is more impressive than human empathy?”

The prose in the novel is well-done, but the subject is hopelessly mundane. This may have worked as a shorter novel but at 331 pages it is too much. The main character just cannot sustain our attention.

I suppose there are times when I am open to a lengthy disquisition on the color blue but not on page 242 of a 331 page novel. The last Greenland section of the novel is particularly forlorn and forgettable.

I had read Brad Leithauser’s first two novels, ‘Equal Distance’ and ‘Hence’, and thought they were extremely well-done. I had high hopes and expected big things for Leithauser. However I read one of his later efforts, I forget which one, and did not enjoy it. I had not read him for many years until now.

‘The Promise of Elsewhere’ is not a comeback. This experience has convinced me to in the future give up on a novel I don’t care for sooner even if I have enjoyed that writer in the past.


Grade:   C



2 responses to this post.

  1. Perhaps it was a contemporary take on the Russian notion of a Superfluous Man. But Gogol and Pushkin kept to the short story to do it, not 300+ pages.
    Or *frown* another Knaussgaardian effort?



    • Hi Lisa,
      I really don’t know what Brad Leithauser was trying to accomplish. I though his first two novels in the late 1980s and early 1990s were excellent, and I had great expectations for him. But this one really dragged for me, and I kept thinking about giving it up but never did. As I’ve noted before an author’s career is not always a straight line up or a jump from success to success.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: