A sensitive young college student is haunted by his hometown and the girl he never quite managed to leave behind.
The homecoming novel is such a tricky business—all that aching pining, the pregnant pauses, the glossy remembrances of truly ordinary moments. It’s all here in the deftly composed but emotionally sodden debut novel by essayist and literary critic Lytal. This go-round is sincere to the point of exasperation, while the whole story is trying so hard to be something weightier than its parts. Young Jim Praley has come home from the big city to visit his parents in Tulsa, a hometown that Praley delights in spinning into fables for his friends, his “Tulsa stories.” At a party, Jim meets Adrienne Booker, the bright beating heart of the Tulsa art and music scene, who ruthlessly and casually sleeps with him. They spend a summer kind-of together, barring the bisexual advances of Adrienne’s BFF Chase Fitzpatrick. Eventually, the romance simply fizzles out, and Jim returns to the East Coast to finish college and work at a small literary press. Drowning himself in parties and work years later, Jim is startled when he gets word from Chase that Adrienne has been seriously injured in a drunken motorcycle accident. Unfortunately, the narrative falls off a cliff in this second half as Jim reconnects with friends, fences with Adrienne’s family and contemplates staying in Tulsa with his broken ex-girlfriend. Lytal writes with compassion, but the long poetic sequences about walking around a city get a bit melodramatic over time. “I had used downtown as the backdrop to a love story—but most people aren’t so willful. At their roots, the skyscrapers are dumb,” he writes. Neither offbeat enough to keep readers’ attentions nor poignant enough to justify its lingering melancholia, the whole sad affair winds up feeling like a half-finished love letter at the bottom of a drawer.
An off-key Midwestern reminiscence with a self-pitying air of despondency.