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Flatscreen: A Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 339 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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Top Customer Reviews
Yes and no. This starts out as you would expect. Teen angst, self loathing, drugs, totally directionless life. But self-aware enough to know that he is going nowhere, and well aware that he is miserable. People are always telling him he is funny, and that is also the main positive feature of the book's first part. His self-description? "A defeated-by-gravity stomach. Hair was a bird's nest. I was a wounded, well-fed bird."
It is a pleasure to read the language of this book. The language is well crafted, innovative, and interesting. "People said I was like [Uncle Ned] because he was a f...up [Amazon required ellipse]. Then he died. They stopped saying it." But after awhile I feared that the book was going nowhere. That the lively language wasn't sufficiently compensating for the lack of plot development. No job, lives with mom, watches TV all day, interests limited to scoring women and drugs. Success with the later, not the former. Aimless, drifting, sad. This does not make for a successful life, or book.
But then an incredible thing happens. The plot and the writing subtly change. Plot changes are what you expect in a coming of age novel, and the writer constantly plays with the reader's expectation and hope for this. He provides nineteen possible endings to the life of our narrator and the book. Everything from quick death, pathetic loneliness and drug addiction to various versions of rich, famous, happy. But the book has no sudden changes, no instant resolutions. Because this isn't the life story of the narrator, it is a few months when he is about 20. So what we get are slow, subtle changes. Almost indiscernible. But transforming the psyche of our narrator, and thus his language, his mental state and the events that occur. Tiny changes, but they are there, and the subtlety of these changes, the confidence of this first time novelist that he could successfully tell this story with minute changes in the light, color and timbre of the story is what makes this book a success.
By the end the narrator has lost the protective coating of his smart-ass language and attitude. His self-description is now as "angry but also in pain, s..t-scared [Amazon again], guilty-feeling, confused." He has dropped the facile humor, the witty one-liners.
The book is filled with movie references, all followed by the parenthetical name, studio and year of the film. And the films and TV of his life provide a bigger context for what is going on in his life. A way of grounding his events, or lack of events, in the only context he is comfortable with: film and TV. The first part of the book is so heavy with these references, and so filled with lively but largely meaningless internal banter that I almost gave up on the book, just like everyone gives up on the narrator. But don't.
By the end I had great admiration for the author in the subtle transformation of his narrator and the language of the book. I'm looking forward to where this young author decides to take us, his readers, with his next books.
The book also really lost something in the gazillion "possible endings." I think this book could have easily been catapulted from okay to good by slashing those by half or more (they were really, really annoying by the end) and expanding the end of the book. Just as the book begins to transition from Eli being a complete annoyance to someone we start to care about, the book is littered with his daydreams of how his life may turn out. Don't get me wrong, some are vital to the book and understanding Eli, but the sheer number of them was just overkill. Along with the movie references and the lists (although I liked the lists), at times the book even seemed gimmicky. It's a shame too, because the book has so much opportunity to be expanded into something much more engaging.
This novel won't be for all tastes. It's gritty, vulgar and relentlessly unsentimental. But readers who can take it will be rewarded with vivid descriptions, thoughtful asides, a crackling pace, and a sardonic protagonist who makes Benjamin Braddock, the Dustin Hoffman character from The Graduate, seem focused and self-assured by comparison.
Eli Schwartz has spent so much of his life watching television that cooking programs have turned him into a gourmet chef. As the novel opens, that's the only talent he's willing to use --- that and taking drugs and sleeping with women, from former classmates to their mothers. Eli's parents are long divorced, and his mother, whom he lives with in a suburban Boston mansion, has decided to sell the house and move into a condo. The buyer is Seymour J. Kahn, who doesn't let his confinement to a wheelchair keep him from cheating on his latest wife, partaking of recreational drugs, and enjoying target practice in his new backyard. One of his daughters begins a relationship with Benjy, Eli's older brother, a lawyer-in-training who tries to get Eli to find a job, or at least shower once in a while. But all Eli does is wander the town in his bathrobe, visit old buddies, sell his ill-gotten baseball card collection, and watch Kahn receive lap dances from a thong-clad caregiver.
There's not much plot to FLASTSCREEN. The novel is a series of episodes that show Eli getting into progressively worse situations. His sexual escapades provoke a fistfight at Thanksgiving dinner. He gets caught breaking and entering. The biggest humiliation comes after he accepts Viagra and other pharmaceuticals from Kahn and winds up passed out in the end zone of a local football game with his drug-powered member pointed toward the sky. Video of the incident goes viral on YouTube.
See what I mean by a bumper-car ride?
All of this might have been too much to stomach in the hands of a lesser writer. But Wilson has a gift for relating these episodes in a way that doesn't make you cringe. His narrative style takes getting used to. He often dispenses with subjects. "Picked up my prayer book, thumbed the pages, braided the fringes of my tallis," is typical of his gumshoe-like prose. And not every character is fully developed. I wish I had known more about Kahn; his story would have been stronger if he had been more than the sad wreck depicted here.
But I'm quibbling. It's to Wilson's credit that he was able to take a genre as moth-eaten as the coming-of-age story and infuse it with freshness. Unpredictability works in the novel's favor, too. Just when you think Wilson's knees are going to buckle and he'll lose his nerve and succumb to sweetness and redemption, along comes another devastation to complicate Eli's life. Wilson relates these events in such a way that you never feel despair. You sense at the end that Eli will eventually untangle his knotty life, but you know the task won't be easy, nor are you sure that every knot will yield without a struggle.
On the night that Eli and his mother move their belongings to the condo, Eli remarks upon the lack of illumination on the road. The only light comes from the headlights on his mother's car. "Headlights don't illuminate much," Eli says. "[E]nough to keep us moving safely forward." That's an apt description of life, and, come to think of it, of a good novel. And that's Wilson's achievement here: to shine a light on a life poorly led, with just enough wattage to keep us interested.
Reviewed by Michael Magras
Most Recent Customer Reviews
tits. it was funny I still laughed out loud allot.Read more
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