Callow yuppies crave love, redemption and alcohol in this engrossing saga of the post-9/11, post-dotcom age of anxiety.
By day, twentysomething tech-support drone Marcus Compton toils away at a telecom firm, amid layoffs and rumors of accounting fraud. By night, he joins alcoholic lady-killer Neil to troll Chicago’s singles bars for female companionship. Marcus feels the hollowness of their â€œwhite-boy wannabe gangsta-rap” pose–as a disgruntled girlfriend puts it–and wants more than a routine of beer-soaked hookups, but his stabs at longer-term relationships–with married co-worker Theresa, speed-dating prospect Denise and Neil’s ex, Allison–always unravel over trivial disputes and his commitment-phobia. As his company staggers toward bankruptcy–a process chronicled in funny, mordant workplace scenes and chat-board posting–Marcus watches Neil’s parallel trajectory of boozy self-destruction, grappling with the sobering realization that his own problems stem from the fact that he’s something of an asshole. Though usually a milieu that features cheap satire, first-time novelist Mangione takes his three-dimensional characters seriously even as he skewers their foibles and hypocrisies, fleshing out their lives with a sure feel for dialogue, setting and psychology. He examines the mixture of vulnerability, calculation and veiled hostility toward the opposite sex of the singles’ scene; the subtle, compounding ways in which first dates turn sour; the contest to see who can wait longer before returning the other’s messages; and the obsessive theorizing about relationships that inevitably occurs whenever singletons congregate. The shapelessness of the narrative occasionally turns the author’s strengths into weaknesses. Marcus’s many benders and bad dates blur together into a haze of alcohol and bickering, and the characters’ long-winded relationship-ology can become as tedious as such conversations in real life.
Patient readers will be amply rewarded with a funny, clear-eyed and bleak but affecting look at modern manners and morals.