6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Flatscreen: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
Over the past year I've read a number of books in which the main character(s) emerge from structure of school into the chaos of the real world and find themselves lost in the shuffle. Most of the time these are post-college novels in which the character discovers that maybe that thing they wanted wasn't what they wanted at all. This is not one of those novels. At the center of Adam Wilson's debut novel is Eli Schwartz, high school graduate, Food Network junkie, recreational drug user. His parents' marriage has fallen apart and he's been living in his mother's basement for a few years while the rest of his friends have gone off to college. Eli's life is without proper form - all of the structure in his life has either expired (school), disintegrated (family), or run dry (money). All that's left for him is getting high and watching tv. It's kind of a slacker-stoner novel.
The beginning of Flatscreen feels like a well-managed exercise in stream-of-consciousness writing. It jumps like a late-90's music video - flashing tangentially related images that all somehow come together in a weird but cohesive vision. Within the first few pages Wilson gives the reader a good taste of what the next 300+ pages will be like - dark, silly, strange, profane, and sad. The rest of the book is presented in short chapters that alternate between traditional and nontraditional storytelling methods. Sometimes these nontraditional sections take the form of lists and later in the novel these sections are the imagined 19 alternate endings to Eli's story.
This is one of those books where I felt indifferent about the story but enjoyed the craft and construction of the novel. The prose is so quick that it sometimes feels more like reporting then your normal run-of-the-mill writing. There's so much to like about the writing that it's a shame that I didn't care all that much about the characters. You want Eli to get sober, find a job and just do something productive, but he's so invested in the self-aware slacker persona that he's crafted for himself that he just can't get off the metaphorical couch. The only people he tries to connect with are damaged by their own tragedies. There's Seymour Kahn, former actor and paraplegic, who acts as a sort of bizarre Buddha with a rifle to Eli. And then there's the tortured Alison Ghee, whose boyfriend recently killed himself and gives Eli just enough attention that that she becomes part of his fantasies.
Flatscreen is interesting because in many ways it seems like a reflection of our current internet-enhanced lives. All of the characters interact, but they never really know each other. Eli sends a sort of love-letter to his never-gonna-happen love interest, Jennifer Estes, but it's not scrawled on lined notebook paper, it's not even an email - it's a Facebook message. Facebook, the land of paper-thin relationships, filled mostly with people you used to know. None of Eli's relationships with non-family members go beyond superficial. Even his family members are kept at arm's length.
I am so different from characters like Eli and the people in his life that I had a really difficult time relating to much of anything in the book. I didn't feel like I had anything invested in whether Eli got his act together or whether anyone actually ended up happy or doing anything productive. The book moves along at a brisk pace and I rolled with it, enjoying the scenery but caring very little about where we ended up. It's clearly a case of the subject matter existing outside of my own personal experience and therefore not really my thing. Yet I know that this is a book that will definitely speak to certain people and they will absolutely love it.
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Initial post: Mar 7, 2014 6:41:37 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Mar 7, 2014 8:03:09 PM PST
Justin Jerome says:
"Over the past year I've read a number of books in which the main character(s) emerge from structure of school into the chaos of the real world and find themselves lost in the shuffle. Most of the time these are post-college novels in which the character discovers that maybe that thing they wanted wasn't what they wanted at all. This is not one of those novels."
What would be one of those novels? Suggestions please :-) This book seems interesting, but it sounds like a book I'd only be interesting in reading if I could relate. And while I could probably relate somewhat, maybe more than you...well, as a 37 year old guy feeling a little bit "lost in the real world", who excelled more when I had the structure of school, I relate a little more to the description you wrote that I quoted above. Yet it seems like, in this "coming of age" genre, its mostly stories like this, where the guy was always a slacker or "loser" (though I hate that word - just seems mean) and is maybe starting to reevaluate things, or the person was a former success/big shot who is now adrift and living in the shadow of their former glory.
Not much for guys like me who have always kind of felt a bit adrift, always kind of been the underdog with the big heart, the "loveable loser", yet had the structure of school and then later kind of lucked into the structure (yet also chaos) of an "important" job that I tried to stick with as long as my sanity would allow :-) Yet, as you say, it didn't turn out to be what I was looking for. Not a source of happiness and fulfillment in this world like society says it should be.
Which is why I always question when a character decides to "grow up" in this genre, or why people always seem to want said characters to grow up to be likeable. Or why characters that resist this are "losers" or unlikeable, as if having a job, having it all together, being "productive", or being smooth socially is so easy or the be all/end all in life. People aren't perfect, you know. Not even those that write reviews here ::gasp:: :-) Seems to be a lack of self awareness (or at least self deprecation) I've noticed lately. Lots of self righteousness and pretension. Just seems such an overdone trope in the genre. Maybe I'm crazy, but for once I'd like to see a movie or book with a message that, for a character like that, its ok to not be "normal" or perfect. Its ok to be yourself. Flaws make us human and interesting, after all. So yeah, lots of pretension and snark I've noticed, without much in the way of empathy. But that's another discussion.
So yes, any book suggestions for a story more like what you wrote above would be most helpful. Always nice to find new stories/characters to relate to. Though I have to admit: the internet, being a not-so-fast reader, being a crappy multi-tasker, and just the fast pace of modern life have really cut into my reading time (didn't time seem to last longer when we were young?), so most of what I've found from this genre has been movies. Which is why I'm looking to you for book suggestions...not too many (don't overload me man lol), just a few :-) Though I know its an old review I'm replying to. Thanks and sorry for any self indulgent rambling...went into a bit of a rant there :-)
PS - The whole "living in Mom's basement" thing seems a bit cliche as well. Why isn't it ever moving back into the room you had as a kid? Why is it always the basement? lol Where'd that cliche come from? You'd think people would vary it up a bit. And also the scoring drugs thing seems cliche. These characters are portrayed as lazy and broke, yet they're able to score drugs? So they must have some money and have enough social skills and get up and go to get out there and have some contacts in the world, right? If these people are losers and slackers, makes me wonder what people would say about me lol I don't know any contacts. Guess I'm the most sheltered person in the world. Just thought it'd be funny, to have someone NOT be on drugs, not for lack of desire, but because they're too lazy or sheltered or shy or whatever to know any dealers. Guess I'll have to write that book myself, eh? Well, if I wasn't a slacker, that is ;-)
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