A novel that begins with epigrams from the Pixies, the Clash and Milton has good potential. Don’t let it fool you.
After a promising debut with The Method Actors (2005), a layered portrait of expats in Japan, Shuker takes an odd step backward, time-wise and otherwise, into the demimonde of collegiate underachievers on New Zealand’s South Island. It’s the aoristic modern age, and 18-year-old Richard Sauer, aka Souse, is a mess who thrives on video nasties, ganja, piss (that is, beer) and piss bongs. “Students are allowed, expected, even obliged to keep up the image—carry out new feats of bonging, drink the most, the quickest, for the longest duration.” He has spent most of his grants and student allowances but has yet to attend a class, and, as the cancer-stricken angel who, one supposes, stands for all that is good—his opposite, that is—reminds him, it’s April. Oh, yes, young master Sauer is possibly suicidal and certainly violent: Early on, he beats his parents’ little dog, while even earlier on, he rapes a young woman. Given this résumé, it seems that his options are limited: He can join the army or the police, become a mechanic, go to tech school or stay at home “going insane on the dole.” He does quite worse than all that. His parents aren’t much help in Souse’s decline and fall, though they try to be; think of Alex’s mum and pop in A Clockwork Orange, and you’re most of the way there. Souse is just as bad a piece of work. Shuker writes well, and the stream-of-consciousness weirdness coming out of Souse has moments. But the point of the exercise seems to be unclear, unless it’s to report the dreariness of life in the postindustrial Antipodes or warn of what listening to one too many Cure songs can lead to.
Absent clear guidance, take these lessons: Stay clear of beer bongs. And of this book, too.