Hoyt’s debut novel (following a collection of stories, Then We Saw the Flames, 2009) is an unconventional whodunit in which who did it is not the point.
Nineteen-year old Neptune is at the nexus of many different storylines. He's a thorn in the side of the local Black Block, an anarchist commune whose dynamite he has made off with; a late-night knight in shining armor for his mentally ill former professor, Marilynne, whose life he cannot save; a link to the past for the mysterious Saskia, whose dead brother’s shaman-hexed Ghost Machine (a Walkman circa the 1990s) has started spinning the tape of Neptune’s life and cannot be muted or turned off. Adrift, multiply abandoned, alcoholic, and emotionally scarred, Neptune has a tough, wry, and at times movingly vulnerable voice which guides us through the underbelly of anarchic/punk Lawrence, Kansas, as he runs from the anarchists, the police, his past—both recent and way-back-when—and, most of all, his future. Will Neptune evade the anarchists, intent on either recovering their dynamite or enacting their revenge? Will he successfully overcome the minefield of his own personality to work things out with Saskia—who is beautiful, brainy, patient, penitent, and has many other Manic Pixie Dream Girl traits beside—and, most important of all, will he find out who killed Marilynne? Will he tell us if he does? Told in an unending string of first chapters, Hoyt's book beguiles even as it actively befuddles. Ultimately, though Neptune’s hapless violence, his psychic damage, his deep attachment to equally damaged literary lost boys like Holden Caulfield and Huckleberry Finn are both engaging and sympathetic, his insistence on refusing to tell the reader pertinent parts of his past and his near constant defensive rejection of the reader’s attention are relied on too heavily for the surprisingly slender weight of the plot to withstand.
The events get lost in the telling. Though the book is full of piquant details, juicy language, and the totally believable chaos of characters living on the counterculture fringe, it is outpaced by the restless, relentless energy of its main character’s voice.