Del Sesto, Nicole. All Encompassing Trip. Seattle: Afterbirth Books, 2007. 308 pp. Paperback. $14.95. ISBN 193392912X.

In Nicole Del Sesto’s All Encompassing Trip, aerobics instructors become oddly endearing, quick-witted coyotes sport do-rags, and coffee disappears completely, only to be replaced by episode after episode of Oprah, setting the stage for a strikingly original and laugh-out-loud funny first novel.

The journey begins when Nikki Nasco, a wonderfully neurotic businesswoman, starts compiling the five rock albums she would want if she were stranded on a desert island. Having a completely normal day, Nikki goes to her best friend Amber’s exercise class, after which both women agonize over their respective exes. When they wake up, the world around them is both drastically and minimally different only reruns of reality TV shows flicker in their darkened living rooms as a leprechaun waits in Nikki’s back yard, all in the complete absence of caffeinated beverages. What’s left of their possessions are Amber’s car and the truly useless things e.g. push-pins, Hallmark cards, Raid, a Fed-Ex envelope in addition to Nikki’s five desert island rock albums.  Nikki and Amber’s normal life is clearly missing, and it’s their job to bring it back.

In addition to its sparkling prose and memorable dialogue, Nicole Del Sesto’s narrative is rife with parodies of American life as well as subtle social criticism, lending these two women’s entertaining adventures a serious ideological message.  Emphasizing a balanced philosophy of life in which one avoids extremist points of view, All Encompassing Trip often uses the absurd premise of the book to satirize fanatics of all kinds from the overly liberal to die-hard right-wingers to the extremist vegan.  As Del Sesto writes at the start of All Encompassing Trip:  “Somewhere in Milpitas, Chuckie Rightwing invites Jesus Christ to live in his heart … In Berkeley, Demi Davi Dai, a vegan, sits down to a meal of tofu with organic flower petals … In downtown San Francisco, Kassen Kyle, a medically certified commitment-phobe, considers his options for the evening…A normal day” (9).  By juxtaposing a group of different but equally passionate fanatics, Del Sesto emphasizes the ridiculousness of the way these characters’ identities are determined by their respective ideologies while showing the danger and isolation inherent in becoming too invested in any belief system.

Consistent with the social criticism woven throughout the novel, sheltered and weight-obsessed Nikki Nasco learns to value open-mindedness and a balanced worldview in herself and others, rendering her an unexpectedly fun and sympathetic character. As Nikki finds herself exposed to just about everything on this truly all-encompassing trip, Del Sesto skillfully develops Nikki’s character to reflect this concept of belief in moderation, keeping her audience on its toes all the while. Del Sesto writes, “It seemed to Nikki, that being gay or anything else for that matter, should be about making a choice for your life, and not needing to shove your choice down the throat of the world…It’s too bad it all gets lost in a stereotype” (75).  Delivering a truly modern and socially relevant message through this imaginative parody, Del Sesto is a Bizarro writer with the heart of a philosopher.

If you enjoy leprechauns, coyotes, vegans, boot camp, or a skillfully constructed narrative, All Encompassing Trip is for you.

Kristina Marie Darling