Two “twentysomethings of early-millennium Seattle” take different paths to maturity in this likable, highly readable, double-bylined coming-of-age first novel.
Mickey Montauk and Halifax Corderoy are best buds sharing a large house and a sense of irony that leads them to put on faux art shows as “The Encyclopaedists,” complete with their own Wikipedia entry. When Corderoy dumps his girlfriend, Mani, before leaving for grad school, Montauk helps her through the aftermath of an auto accident before he heads overseas as an Army lieutenant in the Iraq occupation of 2004. Chapters alternate between Corderoy’s ill-prepared and humorous immersion in lit-crit seminars and his friend’s hard-edged life amid the threats and slaughter of insurgency. Both areas have fun with the lingo. A four-page analytical romp through Star Wars dips into New Criticism, Marxist theory, post-colonialism and semiotics. The military’s love of shorthand gets a workout: “LN sources indicate coordinated attack mixing VBIED with SAF. BOLO for a silver BMW sedan.” In a nice piece of plotting, Corderoy’s roommate, Tricia, embeds near Montauk’s unit, and Mani migrates back from Seattle to her Massachusetts roots, not far from Corderoy in Cambridge. The authors give these principal women enough of their own growing up to balance all the manning up by the male leads. There are many nice touches in the writing, including a witty show and tell concerning female anatomy at a difficult moment and some Shandy-esque fun with display pages for Wikipedia entries and military forms. Minor cavils concern a simplistic sense of politics that yet might be age-appropriate for the characters and a fairly restrained rendering of the occupation, surprising given that Kovite in real life occupied the same role as his character and clearly wrote the words “a hundred horrific possibilities every single day.”
That two different writers are at work is sometimes apparent but not bothersome given that two distinctive characters are in play, and the overall narrative’s smart and entertaining.