A darkly funny take on modern anxieties.
Friedland’s clever debut treats society’s response to the sudden calamitous appearance of Universal Simultaneous Anxiety Collapse Disorder, a new disease that confounds our neuroses. When contracted, a victim will become suddenly overwhelmed by the acute awareness of all earthly anxieties—they then scream a seemingly mundane phrase like “Winter is coming!” or “Poor oral hygiene is killing us!” and fall to the ground foaming at the mouth. The disease appears to be both contagious and incurable. Because USAC’s first victim, Harold Greensmeyer, was stricken while shopping at the supermarket, the phrase “going down aisle ten” comes to refer to the disease’s onset. As the sickness spreads, the bouncy narration crackles with sharp observations about human behavior in riffs on the mind-wrecking absurdities of contemporary life. Harold’s story continues through the confines of a mental hospital, until his crafty escape and brief life as a fugitive put him in touch with a cast of colorful characters: an oddball psychologist seeks to cure him, a delusional local cop believes Harold to be a mystic and a woman sent by a matchmaking service falls in love with Harold despite his frothing unresponsiveness. Flights of fancy coyly blur the line between real and surreal, like the bizarrely sophisticated matchmaking service that costs a fortune to join but yields only one result. Bleakly funny at times—no doubt under the influence of Catch 22—Friedland’s promising start moves swiftly toward a conclusion that is, unfortunately, rather flat and unsatisfying. But the course there entertains enough to be well worth getting sick.
An amusingly off-kilter diagnosis of modern life.