During my Christmas vacation I was stuck in western Massachusetts with little money and a terrible case of wanderlust. I hadn't left the continent all year and hadn't gone on a serious trip (traveling for several months at a time) since 2003. I was hungry. In desperation, I headed to a local library (in a neighboring town to spice things up) and roamed around the travel section. I started pulling books down off the shelf, hoping that something would manage to assuage my itchy feet. I was immediately drawn to Franz Wisner's Honeymoon with My Brother. The title was compelling enough for me to read the back cover. Collapse of a 10-year relationship days before the wedding? Two-year journey covering 53 countries? I was in.
What surprised me as I started to read was that the book I had checked out to help soothe my wanderlust also tackled the theme of male bonding. Suddenly it wasn't just my traveling side that was interested, but my gender-conscious side as well. Right there on the first page Franz Wisner dove into the topic of his relationship with his brother. "Details of our lives were relayed through our mom. Neither of us took the initiative to do more. I wanted to talk to Kurt. I needed to talk to Kurt, but I didn't know how." It was immediately apparent that this book was very consciously about brotherhood in addition to travel and romantic relationships.
In the early part of the book, Wisner recounts his personal and professional history, both of which seemed very well situated by the time he was in his early thirties. The former press secretary for Pete Wilson (ex-governor of California) had a lucrative job at a major southern California land development company and a house in a nice neighborhood. Despite some relationship difficulties, he thought that he had found his life partner. However, when she backed out of their wedding five days before it was supposed to happen, Wisner felt lost. It was at this point, while he was in pain and needing comfort and support, that he began to recognize the holes in his relationship with his brother.
Shortly after the breakup, Wisner found himself slipping from his prestigious post at the Irvine Company. Now relegated to a smaller office and a job with less responsibility, he decided to follow through on his honeymoon plans in Costa Rica, taking his divorced brother Kurt along with him. Days into the trip, the brothers had an exchange about eating habits that opened Franz's eyes further to their separateness: "I don't know you, do I? Don't have a clue about your feelings after the divorce or even how you like your coffee." Days later, he proposed that the two of them take a year off from work and travel around the world together.
While his may not be the finest prose I've encountered, Wisner does a good job of weaving together observations and facts from the 53 countries they visited, along with self-reflection and an expanding sense of the depths of brotherhood. He acknowledges his reluctance to talk to Kurt about his divorce and the difficulty he had in establishing a new dynamic between them. "I knew where I wanted the relationship to go; I just couldn't figure out how to get there. We'd talked more in the last couple months than we had in the last decade, yet he still felt distant." While travel remains the central theme of the book, there is a clear and inspiring progression in the relationship between the two brothers as they explore the world together.
Honeymoon with My Brother is an energizing memoir in which the author manages to turn a difficult period in his life into an opportunity to grow--both as a person and as a brother. Whether you read it to travel vicariously, to learn about someone's struggles with developing a strong, intimate bond between brothers, or just to get a look inside the head of an upper-class white Republican, the book is a worthwhile read. Those interested in learning more about the book can go to the author's site: www.honeymoonwithmybrother.com.
Gretchen Craig is an avid traveler, a quasi-avid reader, and the development coordinator for the Men's Resource Center for Change. She has a long-standing interest in gender issues and relationships between siblings.