Review: Vague Expectations by Val Emmich

nadia zazie debuts for pop-break with a look at the singer/actor’s newest literary work…

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Vague Expectations isn’t sure if it’s a travel diary, a commentary on travel diaries, or a brother bonding piece which happens to include a bit of cross-city travel. But it’s okay, because it knows it.

Author Val Emmich
Author Val Emmich

The best way I’ve come up with to describe the take-home tone of this piece is: when I finished the last paragraph, the loudest thought in my head was, “Oh God, that felt like being in my 20’s.” By that I mean: the narrator in Vague Expectations craves capital A Adventure, but is honestly a little more interested in the bragging rights and a good story than the actual adventure per se; he wants to do something Novel! Impressive! Unique!… and would very much appreciate everybody’s attention, approval, admiration, and advice before setting out. It’s everything insecure and self-conscious and 20-something and he writes it so well. (I should add, here, that the author is not, in fact, in his twenties, but comfortably into his thirties. I stand by my assessment, though. We’re talking feeling not fact.)

Emmich, who you sense is very much aware of the effect of his approach on his reader (the man prefaces his essay with a quote from Dumb and Dumber. No delusions of stoic profundity here.), has effectively confronted and challenged a very familiar and trendy angst: If all great frontiers have already been forged and the age of discovery is over, how do we blaze our own trail? Leave our own legend? And does all this “Great Adventure” business actually deliver all the inner strength and public ovation it promises? Emmich’s response was meta, ironic, self-aware and quite clever.

The quick run down: Emmich and his brother, inspired by their professor’s walking the island of Manhattan some 18 years before, set out to follow the same route, have some adventures, and get some serious brother-to-brother time.

Though the piece purports itself as the story of a physical journey (“Hiking the Length of Manhattan), the most intriguing aspects are the interior landscapes, Emmich’s own psychological process, and peeking into the relationship between the two brothers. The majority of the page is dedicated to Emmich’s preparation for the hike (or conscious lack thereof), the way he builds up the significance of the experience, and the juxtaposition of the expected versus the actual revelations the two experience en route.

Hot on the heels of several current best-selling travel/adventure books like Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” or Christopher Mcdougall’s “Born to Run”, Emmich has written a sort of anti-travel log, disregarding almost entirely the landscape of Manhattan that he walks through, and honing instead in on a sort of grinning irony of the mission, and the interior scenery unearthed along the way.

Val Emmich is one of those perplexing individuals who seem to have been doled out more than their fair share of abilities. This actor, singer, songwriter and writer (and boyishly handsome fellow) has published Vague Expectations: Hiking the Length of Manhattan on his blog http://valemmich.com/, making it a free read and well worth the price of admission.

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