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Hard-Wired Paperback – July 20, 2016
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About the Author
JOSEPH DOBRIAN is a novelist, essayist, translator, business journalist, actor, singer, and TV talk show host. Previous novels include Willie Wilden and Ambitions. A long-time resident of New York City (where he ran for Mayor in 2009), he now lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with four rescue cats.
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As I progressed through the book, I couldn’t make up my mind whether Andy should be an object of admiration, contempt or pity. He alternates between reveling in a militant non-conformism and contempt for his classmates, and a burning desire for adulation and fame. (His revolt against a high school student senate-decreed volunteer service requirement is deeply funny and yet furious.) He is breathtakingly self-absorbed, almost narcissistic, and I saw almost no evidence that from childhood through adulthood he ever learns the joy and gratification that most of us experience from being dedicated to the emotional or psychological well-being of another human being. And yet his deeply complicated, evolving relationship with his neurotic, flawed mother is portrayed sympathetically and with great understanding and yes, compassion.
By the end of the book, the reader feels almost sad for Andy, who seems to be almost pleading his case that he’s had a happy, productive, worthwhile life. A deep undercurrent of wistfulness, rooted in Andy’s nearly obsessive love for the unattainable girl next door who disappears from his life, pervades the end of the book.
But by far the best thing about this book is that it’s so much more than “I did this, and then she said that, and then this happened.” The book grapples with the really big issues – what is the nature of human existence, are we acting from our own free will or are we prisoners – puppets, almost -- of our “hard-wired” nature which genetically decrees that our lives will turn out a certain way, how and why do our parents have happy or unhappy marriages, what is a worthwhile life.
This is just an unbelievably rewarding novel, so much better than most of the fiction on the best-seller lists, and when I finished it yesterday on the living room couch, with the eloquent final words resonating in my head, I was deeply sorry that it had ended and was wishing I had 200 more pages to go. That is the mark of great fiction.
**EDIT** .. Dobrian's novel moved to .. unexpected territory and, in retrospect, the set.up for The Big Showdown was masterful: a tidy package that terminates on a - how you say? - wistful note (though set in high school - with high school characters and high school thoughts - the material is as heavy as, say, the Paul Auster authored film SMOKE). Hard-Wired carries the sort of resonance that would make for a rewarding experience if re-read across the decades, as it wrestles with the riddles of youth, age, and shifting perspectives, hey !
Andy is one of those literary characters for whom it is not that unlikely for the reader, in reading their various exploits, to possibly want to smack them upside the head once or twice. But the intimacy with which he opens up in this story is just enough that that impulse doesn't lead one to cast the book aside. Verbal ecdysis is one of Joseph Dobrian's strengths, and he brings it.here. We end up knowing Andy too well to throw the exposed baby out with the awkward bathwater.
This work on the youthful psyche of Andy Palinkas (a psyche Andy himself believes will dominate his destiny) also further expands Dobrian's fictional universe of State City, shown in his novel Ambitions.