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The Next Right Thing: A Novel Hardcover – March 6, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 87 customer reviews

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Author One-on-One: Dan Barden and Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan Dan Barden

Jennifer Egan is the author of the 2011 Pulitzer-prize winning novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad.

Jennifer Egan: The Next Right Thing seems both to honor the conventions of the mystery genre, and to bend them in thrilling and amusing ways. Are you a mystery buff? Talk about your relationship to the genre, and if--and how--it moved you to write this novel. Do you see it as a mystery novel?

Dan Barden: Yes, I'm mystery buff. Thrillers, noir, hard-boiled crime novels--the whole bag. Hard-boiled, particularly. It's the kind of book that always goes to the top of the pile. When I was out in the wilderness between novels, I thought really hard about what I wanted to write, and I kept pushing away the idea of a crime novel. I didn't feel worthy of the genre--it gave me too much pleasure, it was too important to me. But then I went to school on many crime novels that I loved. I typed up the books that I wanted for models--yes, that's right, I typed up at least five novels, got them into my blood and bones. I was trying to write the best story possible, and I borrowed as many elements from the genre as I could. I'm wary to claim this as a thriller because I don't want to show up at the door of that club and have someone like Lee Child or James Ellroy or Laura Lippman kick me out.

Jennifer Egan: The central relationship of the novel--one that I've never seen explored in fiction before--is that of a recovering alcoholic to his sponsor; indeed, the mysterious death of that sponsor is what sets the story in motion. Talk about the quality of a recovering addict's relationship to his sponsor, and what made you think of investigating the richness of that relationship here.

Dan Barden: I have a lot of friends in recovery. I'm sure they might all answer this question differently, but I'll tell you what I've seen: an alcoholic comes into the process of recovery and he is probably at the lowest point of his life. And into this weird, desperate vacuum comes a sponsor who not only introduces him to his new life, but also to a new community. The situations that I've seen are just so wildly beautiful. People are accepted into the community just because they're standing there. Not because they are lovable or kind or smart or any of those things that they thought were important. My protagonist, Randy Chalmers, says it well in the book. He says, "You just have to be a still-breathing alcoholic." When I was getting sober, I had a guy like that, too. He told me that I was in much worse shape than I thought I was, but that I was also better than I thought I was. I can't imagine my life without knowing him.

Jennifer Egan: Likewise, your use of West Coast recovery culture is sublime and unexpected. Was there research involved?

Dan Barden: The research was my life. I've had many friends in recovery for many years, and I lived in California until my late twenties. The recovery scene out there is amazing. It's a big culture. And they really walk to the beat of a different drummer. They have a lot of fun, too. Big wild conventions. A.A. meetings with thousands of people at them. I'm so glad you think it worked.

Jennifer Egan: I was struck repeatedly by the humor in your novel. How did you achieve it? Whom do you look to for funny writing you can learn from?

Dan Barden: In writing this book, one of my great discoveries was that I could write in the voice of someone funnier than I am. I'm not as funny as my friends, for example. I have one friend in mind. I call him once a week just hoping he'll have time to tell me stories about his life. He's been sober a long time, too. So, at one point, I just decided to write in his voice. And that worked really well. As far as other models go, Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist was a book that totally cracked me up. That was another novel I typed up, just a chapter or two. There's a certain kind of brilliantly self-involved mind that always gets me. What else? Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. God, that was funny book. Jonathan Tropper is a master of droll narration. I studied him, too.


Advance praise for The Next Right Thing

“Everything you could hope for from a novel: The Next Right Thing is suspenseful, hilarious, angry—above all, wildly original. I only wish I’d written it myself.”—Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
“Dan Barden’s The Next Right Thing is The Long Goodbye in rehab. It’s fierce and funny and absolutely worthy of its predecessors—like them, Barden’s hard-boiled tale is really an inquiry into male love and grief, and the state of the American heart.”—Jonathan Lethem
The Next Right Thing has humanity, humor, and insight to burn. Dan Barden takes the clay of the California hard-boiled novel and shapes it into something new.”—George Pelecanos

"An extremely engaging novel…Dan Barden shows us how it's always the people who know us best – the ones whose love (and hatred) is therefore the purest – who have the power to save us.” – Scott Smith, author of A Simple Plan and The Ruins
“Randy Chalmers is an American literary hero for our time: a recovering drunk with a big, broken heart and an anger problem. I adore him. In The Next Right Thing, Dan Barden captures exactly the pitiless, irreverent love that keeps drunks sober.” - Michelle Huneven, National Book Critics Circle Finalist author of Round Rock and Blame
"Dan Barden's one hell of a writer." – Andrew Vachss

“[An] engaging debut…[Contains] a healthy amount of verve and black comedy…succeeds on the emotional and physical muscle of its narrator”—Kirkus

“Barden vividly renders the culture of Alcoholics Anonymous and the flawed souls who depend on it to stay sane and alive.”--Booklist

“[R]ings true…As I put the book down, I wondered whether Barden had a friend whose death inspired those [final] haunting paragraphs. It feels that real.”The Washington Post
 “Dan Barden's new novel, The Next Right Thing, is a rare beast: a detective story where the central mystery turns out not to be the most important thing going on. Incidentally, and perhaps even rarer, it's also a detective story that makes you wonder if you ought to take up construction and interior design.”The Atlantic

“[M]ost unexpected… a refreshingly sordid look at sobriety—perhaps because the action is more engaging than the sinless serenity that drives most tales about life after active addiction. As Barden’s damaged characters curse and fight their way through the hills of tony Laguna Beach and the grittier streets of urban Santa Ana, they defy any expectations that sobriety translates into saintliness. … [A] hell of a lot more provocative than the average hardboiled crime novel”TheFix.com

"... reasonably serious study of male companionship, what it takes to fly straight and the ultimate inscrutability of other people." --The New York Times

"Barden uses the conventions of noir perfectly, giving the audience the specific pleasures it was seeking while illuminating truths about recovery." --The Weekly Standard

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038534340X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343404
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #816,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Fairbanks Reader - Bonnie Brody TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Randy Chalmers used to be a cop in the Los Angeles area. However, he lost his job for assaulting a Mexican civilian for no reason. He now is a wealthy home designer for the rich. Randy is also a recovering alcoholic and addict who is very much into Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the twelve-step program. He has seven years of sobriety. His sponsor and mentor, Terry, has just died and the police are calling it an overdose on heroin. Randy knows that Terry would never have taken any heroin after having been clean and sober for fifteen years. Randy believes that Terry was murdered and he is going to find the murderer. As he says, "Please don't tell me again how Terry's death makes sense. That he was a junkie and that's how junkies die. One day he was a poster boy for Southern California A.A. and the next day he was dead from a heroin overdose in a Santa Ana hotel. I know something happened, and I'm going to find out what."

As Randy starts to investigate this case, he has the feeling he is being followed and his house spied upon. He finds out things about Terry that trouble him. For instance, was Terry involved in the 13th step - inducting newbies in recovery houses into having sex and introducing them to pornography? Is this the Terry he knows? Randy learns that there are some weird things going on in the recovery houses such as pornography rings. "Somewhere in the middle of this was my sponsor, Terry, dead in that motel room in Santa Ana."

There is a good range of back-up characters in this novel, all fleshed out in a blunt, noirish fashion. A.A. sayings abound and the protagonists are almost all in recovery of some sort or another.

Terry is also dealing with a divorce and trying to get some legal custody of his daughter.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
When you receive a pre-release book and it comes with what is almost a blank cover, you don't expect a lot. The title made me curious, however, so I picked it up one afternoon to see what it was about. There was no story synopsis, or anything that gave a clue what the novel might be.

It is truly a book not to be put down. I made that mistake the first day of reading...I stopped reading to watch a basketball game on tv, but my mind kept going back to the book. Luckily the Chicago Bulls were winning in a "no contest" game, so I went back to my reading area and took up the book once more.

It is a dramatic tale with several subplots that interweave with an ex-cop with a bad temper, Randy Chalmers, who is also a recovering alcoholic deep into A.A., and his friends, enemies, and associates. Randy is divorced and on terrible terms with his ex, but loves his teen aged daughter desperately and is about to lose her as his ex-wife wants to cut him out of their girl's life. His best friends are members of AA and recovering addicts or newcomers to the program and we get deep into their troubles.

The many stories are interwoven brilliantly, and you never lose touch with the main story line which is Randy's search for "the next right thing", an AA term meaning what should be next...not just "next"...but the "next best" thing.

I finshed it that same evening, and have reread it since.

A great work that deserves the highest praise. Congratulations, Mr. Barden!
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This is the one book that I have read in the last five years that I'm confident my fiance will like just as much as I did - this never happens. In short, I liked this book so much and I'm pretty sure you will like this book so much too - whoever you are.

As a lawyer, I'm going to turn to the evidence to illustrate my point. Exhibit A, the last line of a significant chapter about 3/4 the way through the book, "Here's another thing you learn in AA: when the drunk loses the woman he loves, you know you're not at the end of the story. You know it's going to get much worse." Awesome. I laughed (a lot) and cried (a little) - which means it meets my Mom's only criteria for a good story. I have been thinking about this story and the characters for days. It was raw, honest, depressing, funny, and uplifting.

I'm so glad I read it and I would definitely recommend The Next Right Thing to a variety of people because it's a real "page-turner" with an interesting, exciting plot, and the ideas and characters go so much deeper. You'll be thinking about this book for days after you're finished - in a good way.
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Randy Chalmers can't accept that his beloved sponsor died from an OD, a common junkie's death. This lack of acceptance drives THE NEXT RIGHT THING, which reads like a murder mystery, but isn't. Love the narrator's voice here and the other characters who wander into this novel and make a home in your heart like Wade, who quietly moves from recovering slacker surfer to growing up and going onto school to become a social worker. (Good luck with that.) Randy has two switches, violence or compassion. He's as likely to break a guy's nose as to hug him. What doesn't work for this reader is Randy's materialism. What is an Eames chair and what does it mean to the narrative? Maybe the constant materialism, lusting after beachfront property and ocean views, works as an antidote to the spirituality. There are no real villains here, only humans screwing up their lives in odd California ways. I've read novels about remote reaches of Sweden that felt less foreign than this author's California. I'm an East Coast person who thinks Ikea furniture is great, so this novel felt extremely exotic. Only criticism of writing: not much description or sensory detail. Couldn't see the characters or their surroundings well, except for the ocean, its grayness at times and its blue so blue you could bounce something off it.
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