Paralyzed by indecision, does he dare to eat a peach? No, the protagonist of this debut novel is likelier to devour an antidepressant before gazing into the abyss.
Dwight Wilmerding is who Max Fischer, the antihero of Wes Anderson’s 1998 film Rushmore, might have grown up to become had he lost all sense of direction and taken an unnatural interest in his sister. He’s a bright enough guy with no apparent ambition apart from hanging around with his New York flatmates and luxuriating with his Indian girlfriend, whom he doesn’t quite know how to treat in part because he can’t be bothered to make the appropriate inquiries. Dwight has some self-awareness, and certainly knows that his slacker ways are likely to end in tears. Yet, afflicted by abulia, the inability to make decisions, he lies awake at night “feeling like a scrap of sociology blown into its designated corner of the world.” His sister Alice, for whom he has more than brotherly feelings, is a psychiatrist without a license and his mother a source of mad money. Dwight’s father is about the most sensible person in the book. (At one point he tells his firebrand daughter Alice that if she wants to be a revolutionary, she really should show some backbone and kill him.) Dwight, dumped from his job at Pfizer—let there be no post–Doug Coupland generational novel without its brand-name-checking--and unburdened by any sense of responsibility, decides to make off for Quito, the capital of Ecuador (“pronounced Key-Toe, for the uninitiated”), and look up a college classmate for whom he’s been carrying a flame. Laughs, sex and machete-wielding ensue, followed by more sex, expensive sun dresses and choice encounters with other classmates better able than Dwight to make a decision, but no luckier in the outcome of their exercise of free will. Those who don’t become impossibly annoyed with the hapless, initially whiny lead will enjoy seeing this well-paced tale through to the end.
It isn’t high art, but it’s full of high spirits.