Once I was playing some forum game on a “writers’ site.” The topic was well-known books that could never have been published as first novels. I’d put James Hynes’ Next on top of such a list.
First off it is dark. And I mean really dark, and I can’t begin to tell you how dark without hinting at a spoiler. Let’s just say that second – it doesn’t exactly end on an up note. Third, the protagonist, Kevin Quinn is bound to be disliked – especially by a large proportion of those readers who have vaginas. The point of view is third person, but the view is directly inside of Kevin’s sad little mind. At fifty, he is sliding from middle age into old. He is bitter. Like many of Hynes’ characters, he toils in the lower rungs of academia. In his case a steady, but dull job at a university publishing house that eats away at him a bit more each passing day. He has a younger girlfriend, who he should be grateful for as he sounds like no prize, but he’s thinking of ditching. In fact he’s flown for the day from Michigan to Austin for a job interview he hasn’t told her about. You get the idea.
But if you are of a certain age (over forty, under sixty) and from the United States, or familiar with its popular culture, you’ll get all of Kevin’s cultural references – The Partridge Family, Joni Mitchell, Whole Foods. You’ll find some of his musings and observations funny, and many true. And you’ll get that weird place where he is, and maybe, even if you have a vagina, you’ll forgive his jerkiness, and come to the realization that he is, not simply an “everyman,” but us. None of us would look good if our true-selves were revealed so honestly. If you believe as Joyce Carol Oates does, that the “art” of writing is the exploration of consciousness, and like Neruda that “we are all guilty,” you will forget yourself and simply see the day through Kevin’s eyes. Lose yourself in him.
I won’t say more, and I don’t recommend you read many reviews. Better to make discoveries for yourself, and if you have any fiction-writing aspirations of your own, read this book and consider it a master-class in fearlessness.
(If you are interested in reading a sample, or buying anything on Amazon within the next twenty-four hours, please click the title on the widget above, so I will get a few shekels. Thank you much.)