Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Just Finished: Next

As I was looking for  new books to add to my new Kindle, I saw a recommendation from The Believer  for James Hynes' novel Next and I thought, 'They've got their hands on the pulse of culture...why not." So I bought it, read it, and now I shall divulge my opinion...

Kevin Quinn is a somewhat pitiful middle class, middle aged editor from Ann Arbor, Michigan who secretly flies to Austin, Texas for a job interview. From the get go it's obvious that Kevin is unfocused and directionless. He's ungenerous though polite to the people in his life, and his dignity clings the fact that he owns his own house and is quite fit for a 50 year old. He is mortally afraid of terrorist attacks exacerbated by one that very morning by a ginger haired Scottish Muslim extremist named Kevin, incidentally. Besides that Kevin's biggest hangup is women and his own inertia. The majority of his thoughts center on these two things, and he becomes infatuated with every woman he meets, including a young woman sitting beside him on the airplane who he calls Ms. Joy Luck Club for the novel she is reading.

As Kevin disembarks from the plane and takes a cab to his interview. Arriving several hours too early for his interview, he goes to a Starbucks where he flirts with at least two women before seeing Ms. Joy Luck Club hiking up the street with her duffle bag. Impulsively, Kevin follows her in the oppressive Texas heat up the street into another cafe then to a gourmet supermarket, and finally to a bridge. All the while Kevin bounces back and forth with the inner demons that are his past girlfriends and lovers–the Philosopher's Daughter who has haunted him for 25 years after saying he had not passion or compassion, Lynda who was a meaningless fling, his 13 year relationship with Beth that ended with her leaving him to have another man's baby, and finally Stella, his tenant and younger girlfriend who may or may not be pregnant and who he may or may not want to escape from to Texas.

Kevin's complicated mess of a life is further compounded when he is knocked on his feet on the bridge and his pants are ruined. A pretty runner/doctor helps him, they share lunch and deep dark secrets then she drops him off at Wolh's (presumably code for Kohl's) to buy new clothes. At this point, Kevin doesn't really want the job in Austin but he cleans himself up and goes anyway...and now if you're still reading this then you might feel much as I did by this point somewhere between 75% into the novel–WHAT IS THE POINT? But...that's when things take a turn for the worse amazingly enough.

On the cab ride from Wohl's to the interview Kevin completely misses a radio newscast announcing another terrorist attack in a US city. Once in the lobby of the office building he faintly hears breaking news of yet another attack. And (I'm going to spoil the ending sort of)-the very building Kevin is in gets hit by a bomb. What the heck? Where did that come from? The floor creaks and things fall out of fresh hole in the wall. Smoke fills the stairwells. The fires bears down from below and Kevin has one choice to make, finally moving out of his inertia...what is he going to do Next?

Oh my goodness, I am never trusting The Believer again. I felt like I was middle aged by the time I finished this book. Listening to Kevin's mess of thoughts for 300 pages was like listening to anyone's thoughts for a whole day–b-o-r-i-n-g. I seriously wanted to slap all his sexual fantasies right out of him and all his disappointments and tell him to MOVE ON. Then the last 50 pages come out of nowhere almost and as a book review from the New York Times pointed out–the author basically seems to have created a book around a short story though the story he had to tell was really just that last bit.

Next is a novel that is very real in a lot of ways and I suppose very representative of where a lot of Americans are mentally (don't get me wrong, terrorism is extremely scary). And I suppose I can take away from this book the need to move forward in life rather than harboring regret for 25 years, to take risks and not waver back and forth like a school girl trying to decide on which flavor of ice cream to choose, and also to listen to the news and not get in the tallest building in town when there are a run of terrorist strikes on small American cities. Point taken, but next time please get to the point faster.

No comments: