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The Unknowns: A Novel Hardcover – July 2, 2013
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Roth cracks the code of the male ego and nerd culture in his meditative and absorbing debut. Formerly an ungainly, computer-obsessed high-schooler who sheepishly tracked female classmates in a journal, Eric Muller has grown into a twentysomething self-made millionaire after founding and quickly selling a dot-com start-up in 2002. Now capable of luring women to bed with droll sarcasm and painstakingly calculated guile, Eric meets Maya, a journalist for a San Francisco alt-weekly, whose quick wit proves irresistibly challenging to Eric. Meanwhile, others seem to assess his success with the expectation of a handout. A onetime schoolmate Eric has since snubbed considers dropping out of MIT to start a computer-programming company with him, his mother battles postdivorce blues, and his financially desperate father seeks help to redeem his failed attempts as an entrepreneur. As Eric hides from the feebleminded, he unwittingly bares his soul to Maya, who reveals a startlingly dark secret about her past that might thwart his advances. A convincingly introspective narrative that traces the masculine rationale, Roth’s novel reinterprets love in the digital age. --Jonathan Fullmer
Chosen as a Top 10 Book of 2013 by Janet Maslin, New York Times
"If only all social misfits were as stealthily charming as Eric Muller, the nerdy narrator of Gabriel Roth's sparkling debut novel. Mr. Roth's remarkably funny, tender book is much more than one code-writing kid's success story. As its title indicates, "The Unknowns" is about how Eric grows up trying to fathom those things he doesn't naturally understand. Mr. Roth writes in a gently self-mocking, utterly disarming style that gives "The Unknowns" an unusual type of tension.―--Janet Maslin, New York Times
"THE UNKNOWNS is wonderful, a wry, ironic novel about the perils of contemporary romance, where you can collect intimate details about people you've never met, but still not know the truth of somebody you want to love."―Scott Turow
"The Unknowns feels at first like a very great and very funny coming-of-age novel, about a high-school loser destined for Internet riches. But then suddenly you realize you're reading something much more powerful: a beautiful and painful story about the dangers of learning too much-and about how little we can ever really know about other people."―Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman
"Gabriel Roth is a natural. This is a very assured first book - fast, funny, full of snappy dialogue, and never losing its poise even when it's glancing into the abyss. I think he's a find."
―Sebastian Faulks, author of A Possible Life
"A wise and mature novel, a cool and contemporary one. It announces the arrival of a bright new talent."
―Andrew O'Hagan, author of Our Fathers and The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe
"What a funny, moving, brilliantly cut gem of a novel. An ever-shifting Venn diagram of love and logic, The Unknowns floored me."―Antoine Wilson, author of Panorama City
"The Unknowns is so staggeringly funny and smart that its depths and sorrows, when they came, took my breath away."―Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me
"Gabriel Roth's first novel is a warmly wry coming-of-age story and a darkly funny-and darkly resonant-satire of one effervescent moment in San Francisco's abusive relationship with technology. If Peter Thiel had backed a character from Infinite Jest, he would have gone on to look something like Eric Muller. A tender, comic debut from one of the coder-novelists of the future."―Gideon Lewis-Kraus, author of A Sense of Direction
"Gabriel Roth's Eric Muller had me from the first obsessive aside, but I soon found myself watching through half-covered eyes as he made a bungle of every goddamn thing. I loved and cringed at every moment."―Ben Shrank, author of Love is a Canoe
"Wry observational humor and captivating internal monologues make this promising new voice reminiscent of Ben Lerner and Joshua Ferris."―--STARRED Publishers Weekly
"Smart, funny and emotionally layered, Roth's debut explores the eternal struggle between intimacy and autonomy."―People Magazine
"It's a kick getting inside the head of this highly observant, self-conscious -- and funny -- narrator."―Bloomberg News
"A geek-com of frequently Woody Allen-esque brilliance...Roth is a genuinely exciting talent."―The Daily Mail
"[Eric's] analytic mind, so useful in the world of computers, hinders his human interactions in the real world, especially with the fairer sex.... He perceives dating with an omniscience reminiscent of Neo from The Matrix.... the book crackles with commentary, one part post-structuralism and one part observational comedy, on how we interact in 2013."―The Daily Beast
"As Eric struggles to understand 'the unknowns' of the title, Roth raises interesting questions about what belongs where in the private and public domains of his characters' personal lives."―Joseph Charlton, The Financial Times
"The Unknowns is a confident novel that manages to be both funny and sad."
"This brilliant debut ushers Eric Muller-flawed, funny, irresistibly endearing-into the pantheon of unlikely heroes. With an unblinking eye for the absurdities and horrors of contemporary life, Gabriel Roth gives us a hilarious and heartbreaking meditation on self consciousness, memory, and love."―-- Indiebound
"As Roth toggles between Muller's present-day, millionaire-at-24 self, and his awkward childhood and teen years, punctuated by games on the Comodore, My Little Ponies, and the shitty decisions of his deadbeat dad, he becomes even more endearing and complex. Then Muller learns that the love of his life has a dark past, and you're not only engrossed, you're impressed by the way Roth navigates such a surprising path." -Nicole Davis, Brooklyn Based
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Top Customer Reviews
Eric has no feel for how to behave with people so he tackles the problem like a computer, compiling and analyzing data, observing others and imitating them, trying to write a program in his head that can tell him how to behave and what to feel. Every human interaction is examined and re-examined. Even a simple greeting has to potential to lure poor Eric into a social gaffe. Eric is in some sense himself an artificial intelligence -- and the big problem in artificial intelligence is how to make computers more human.
Eric has made millions by co-inventing a software company that was bought by a big corporation. Independently wealthy, he is bored and lonely and desperate for sex and possibly for love. And then Eric meets the witty and lovely Maya Marcom. The issue becomes, can Eric allow himself to just feel things, or is he condemned for ever to process information in a way that will always stand between him and intimacy?
We learn that Maya was a victim of sexual abuse by her father -- or at least believes she was. She has no actual memories of the abuse. Eric becomes obsessed with trying to analyze to what extent Maya's abuse was real or whether it could have been "false memory syndrome" foisted on her by therapy. For Maya, the issue is one of trust; for Eric it's all about data.
Eventually we reach a fairly predictable climax which the author rushes through, apparently in a hurry to get it over with and the book peters out in a rather unsatisfactory way. I guess there could not have been a different ending - but for me the way it's handled somewhat diminished the novel as a whole.
This book is full of witty aphorisms that give us insight into Eric's mentality and had me periodically chuckling as I turned the pages. "For a straight man, lesbianism is like communism: utopian in theory, disappointing in practice." "I see myself as a life-support system for feelings of anxiety. The anxiety is the organism and I'm the habitat."
The nerd has become one of the great cliched characters of our era in popular culture, almost always depicted as a perpetual loser and figure of ridicule and pity. This book doesn't break that mold - but at least it's well written and entertaining.
The story was bittersweet. Through the whole thing I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was in suspense through the whole thing, and it just kept building until almost the end. I don't want to give anything away but I wasn't surprised at how things turned out, and yet I was somehow still disappointed. It wasn't cruel or unfair - it fit... and yet, it did feel cruel and unfair. I guess that's just how life is sometimes though.
As a nerd myself who's deeply embedded in the world of computers and IT, and general geek culture, and who feels somewhat awkward and even ambivalent towards my fellow humans (even though I tell myself I love everyone, and try my best to live that way), I could really relate to the main character. He was a lot more successful than I've been, but he was still very likable. What else can I say about this? I can't give it 5 stars even though it was an excellent book. I'm one of those people who likes stories to turn out a certain way and when they don't, even if they can't, and even if the journey was so exquisitely well written (or played out), it still leaves me somewhat disappointed.
Despite all that, this is a superb entry into the lad lit genre, and a fascinating slice of life story that goes back and forth between the mid 90's when the narrator is navigating high school and the mid 00's when the narrator is navigating career and relationships. If you're new to the genre I'd recommend Mike Gayle or Daniel Grant to start out with. If you're looking for another worthy entry, this is a good one, with some of the most quotable lines and observations you'll find. I hope Gabriel Roth keeps writing, because he's great.
What makes it truly fascinating and wonderful is how thoroughly and accurately Roth tracks the human thought process -- his ability to weave all the impulses, suspicions, excitements, apprehensions and anxieties that lead to action is truly remarkable.
The book is incredibly funny and poignant, but what really sealed it for me was how often I found myself cheering wildly (or cringing uncomfortably) for the main character, as if he was a real person.
The Unknowns is smart, affective, and entertaining. Definitely for people who like Nick Hornby, Zadie Smith, Joshua Ferris, Miranda July, Dave Eggers, David Sedaris, and the like.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I feel like it was incomplete and hastily finished.Read more
professionally and socially are both enlightening and entertaining.Read more