Bad decisions and worse behavior abound in this novel of restless youth.
There’s little respite from the bleaker side of life in Totth’s debut novel. The scene in which we meet the narrator and his friends—a profane and sex-obsessed bunch of teenage boys who are members of a swim team—ends with them hitting a man with their car. What follows is a parade of terrible behavior, sometimes bordering on the sociopathic. Besides the hit-and-run early in the book, there’s also a moment in which something awful happens to a house cat. These are characters who say things like, “I dig MILFs. It’s sluts I got a problem with.” The narrator manages to be marginally less repellant than his cohorts, and the second half of the book follows along as the strained bonds between these characters fracture, eventually putting several of their lives at risk. Where Totth’s novel and its translation from the Hungarian by Nagy both excel is in conveying the banality and numbness as its narrator proceeds through this parade of horrors. The robbery of a store and its aftermath are described in staccato terms, suggesting an anesthetized reaction to the threat of violence. “The clerk is a chick. She stares out blankly. She’s totally in shock. The screen of a TV vibrates above her head. Barcelona is kicking Real Madrid’s ass.” The juxtaposition of transgressive behavior with competitive sports recalls nothing quite so much as Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. Like that book, the way in which this narrative is told makes for compelling reading even as the acts it describes can inspire shudders.
Totth’s debut is a harrowing experience but also a frequently gripping one.