Are You Experienced? Has Mass Appeal

March 29, 2012

It’s not just the name of a popular Jimi Hendrix album (although that may be what you find if you search this title on Amazon). Are You Experienced? is also the name of a novel, now available in audio book format, by William Sutcliffe, and it is one that is sure to be enjoyed by just about any adult listener, largely because of its multidimensional qualities. Although some may see this narrative as nothing more than a humorous romp through YA novel territory (as two college-age students head off to find adventure overseas), with very little substance to supplement the superficial storyline, the truth is that this audio book offers not so much a travelogue as a telling depiction of a generation that seems content to barely skim the surface of things without any inclination to dig deeper. In short, it is sort of a bite-sized masterpiece for the computer generation.

This audio book relates the fictional story of Liz and Dave, two 19-year-olds that decide to embark on a trip to India before they head for the vaunted halls of learning. The former is on a “spiritual” quest and she is seeking a traveling companion, while the latter is more interested in, ahem, romantic relations with the leading lady. So far, there’s nothing new in this overdone plotline. And frankly, you might at first feel like this audio book is nothing more than a fairly sophomoric regurgitation of a pretty standard premise. While the narrative is eminently accessible (in other words, you won’t find your vocabulary or your imagination overly taxed), there is actually a lot more happening under the surface of the story being presented.

Those willing to consider the author’s intent will find an interesting social commentary at the heart of this pleasing and humorous (but otherwise pulpy) novel. It is actually a satirical overview of American teens, the disaffected youth searching for meaning in life, but not searching too hard because they’re accustomed to having everything handed to them. In this respect, the shallow and narcissistic near-adults at the center of the story may appear at first to be caricatures, experiencing other cultures in the way that one might sample frozen yogurt at a self-serve counter. But in truth, the author is demonstrating the driving principle behind an entire generation, one of ennui and an inability to connect in a real way even in the face of incredible opportunity. These kids are not only out of touch with the world at large, but with themselves.

In many ways, those who have gone on such adventures will find themselves nodding their heads in understanding and laughing at some of the madcap antics pulled by the protagonists. It is pretty clear that Sutcliffe suffuses some of the scenes with his own tangible experiences, and pretty much everyone who has had to operate in a foreign country (finding food in India or China, arranging a car hire Spain to Germany to France, etc.) will see their younger selves mirrored in these hapless teens. But it’s more than just an enjoyable tale of youthful naïveté. This audio book offers an insightful observation of callow youth, and the fact that it is humorous only serves to make it accessible to a wider audience (although those who listen only for entertainment will miss out on the true gems at the heart of this fantastic audio book).

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