Patchogue is a village on Long Island sixty miles from New York City. A man now married and living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan decides to return to the village where he grew up. He carries the dead heaped on his shoulders and the memory of the first love that sent him forth from the village, both fortunate and cursed by this memory. The trip to and from Patchogue assumes the contours of the oldest journey of all: the search for paradise, impelled by the embarrassment of reality. Yes, it is always greener on the other side of the fence, but then that grass has been well fertilized by heaps of decay and rottenness.
After a prologue of facts about Patchogue calling to mind the opening of Moby-Dick, the book divides naturally into three inevitable parts: the going to, the being in, and the coming back from Patchogue by way of Bulgaria, Turkey, and Italy. Each section assembles itself around the moment of the journey: the going to is fraught with hesitation as the past is accumulated to qualify the traveler for this journey; the being in underlines how anticipation is usually better than . . . while the coming back provides the courage to continue the journey to the heaven of the known and the knowing.
Written in a prose that recalls Céline’s, Going to Patchogue is a moral book that will be misjudged as racist and bitter only by those who thought Swift wanted modestly to put Irish babies on sale in the London meat markets. It is a book of flesh and guts, of blood, sperm, and saliva. But to go to Patchogue is also to go to Paris, Venice, Istanbul, to Sofia. Because the traveler doesn’t want to repeat the same journey back, he returns via Bulgaria, Istanbul, and the Villa Paradiso in Padua, the ironically named journey’s end of this travel book for those who never travel, who never want to travel.