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Decisively aimless, dangerously self-destructive, and impulsively in and out of love, Elsie is a young woman who feels stuck. She has a tumultuous relationship with an abusive boyfriend, a dead-end job at a newspaper, and a sharp intelligence that is at odds with the bad decisions she’s making. When her initial attempts to improve her life go awry, Elsie decides that a dramatic change is the only way to fix things—to somehow make more of herself, to find a new way to live.
Fortunate enough to have a father who will financially support her capricious wandering, Elsie strikes out for adventure on her twenty-first birthday. She is an autodidact who prefers the education of travel to college, and is hoping to accumulate experiences, create connections, and find a way out of the suffering she’s grown up with. From a dingy bar in coastal California to a cramped apartment in a brownstone in Brooklyn, to a poverty-stricken village and a monastery in Sri Lanka, Elsie meets men and women who challenge her to varying degrees—they treat her badly, and she treats them badly in return; they are selfless and generous toward her, and she struggles to reciprocate their kindnesses; they are exasperated by her neediness, but she can’t figure out how not to need them.