A lifelong loser finds new ways to screw up in Malloy’s depressing second novel.
Brendan Wolf is a 35-year-old gay man living in Minneapolis. His parents, financial consultants caught bilking their clients, were jailed when Brendan was seven; he then went through several sets of foster parents before being adopted by sadistic psychologists who forced the teenager into brutal “conversion therapy” upon discovering he was gay. Brendan severed all contact with them after dropping out of college. Now, he’s just lost his latest dead-end job and is facing eviction. His favorite book is Into the Wild, the 1996 nonfiction bestseller about Christopher McCandless, the brilliant young loner found dead in the Alaskan wilderness and, in Brendan’s fantasies, his soul- and bedmate. He is pulled in an altogether different direction by big brother Ian, doing time for conning seniors out of their life savings. Ian is due for release, and he and his wife, Cynthia, want Brendan to participate in an elaborate heist, stealing the proceeds from a pro-life group’s Walk for the Unborn. Through a prison contact, Ian also hooks Brendan up with Marv Fletcher, a rich, ugly old queen looking for a “houseboy.” Both scenarios spell disaster, but Brendan, true to form, jumps right in, ingratiating himself with the pro-lifers with a phony story and moving into Marv’s house. The old man has a stroke, but Brendan whisks him out of the nursing home and becomes his incompetent caregiver. This is wholly implausible, as is Marv’s accidental shooting of Brendan. The final absurdity comes when Brendan, still recovering from his wound on the day of the Walk, drives the getaway van without a license.
Malloy (The Year of Ice, 2002) fails to bestow upon his character one bit of self-knowledge, and that’s the most dispiriting thing of all.