Join Anthony Swofford on his journey toward true manhood. Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails is a road-trip book, an account of Swofford’s cross-country trip with his father in a 44-foot-long RV. The physical trip is a distance of 1,000 miles. The spiritual trip they make is immeasurable.
At the beginning of the excursion, Swofford believes that a true man is a warrior, both on the battlefield and in bed. The ex-Marine was a scout/sniper in the first Gulf War. He turned his experiences into the bestseller Jarhead, which later became a movie. Flush with success from those projects, Swofford parachuted from his first marriage and embarked on an extended period of debauchery. He traveled the world, drinking too much, using too many recreational drugs and sleeping with too many women. Then he got a call from his father, who told him he was dying of lung disease.
When Swofford visits, we learn that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. It turns out his father, a Vietnam veteran, was a chain smoker, a hard drinker and a womanizer. Swofford has never forgiven his father for his infidelity to his wife and his strict discipline with his children. In one vivid scene, Swofford recounts how as a young child, when he failed to clean up the dog droppings in the backyard, his dad grabbed his neck and shoved his nose in it. Swofford shares his anger, resentment and disappointment with his father on the RV ride, and by the end of the adventure, he has forgiven his father for his shortcomings. It is now time for Swofford to grow up and stop taking a reckless path similar to his father’s.
Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails is a powerful and sometimes painful book to read. The writing is short, staccato and rhythmic. More importantly, it’s honest. Swofford doesn’t spare anyone in his account, not his lovers, not his family, not himself. He paints himself as a fast-living philanderer and a failure at being human. Fortunately, he is a studious traveler, and the journey ends on a hopeful note, with Swofford learning lessons from his dying father on how to lead a more meaningful life.