A Chicago-set novel about a troubled young man trying to reach his potential, aided—or hindered—by a cast of colorful characters.
This book has a premise as direct and familiar as a screenwriter’s log line: a young man named Simon, having recently overcome a stutter, sets out to fulfill his dream of becoming a voice-over artist. Sounds simple, but author Reidy (Captive Audience: Stories, 2009) does all he can to complicate it. Consider, first, the family dynamic: Simon’s mother is dead after years of wasting her life with Simon’s father, an alcoholic with his own stuttering problem. Also consider: Simon hasn’t just overcome a stutter—he has emerged from 18 years without speaking. Meanwhile, Simon’s brother, Connor, is building his career in improvisational comedy; he has always been verbose and witty—an obvious shadow cast over Simon’s silence. Also, there are the numerous women in Simon’s life: ex-girlfriends, current love interests, and his troubled talent agent. As a voice-over artist might say in a commercial: you get all this and more! With the story summarized, the novel’s busyness shows. Reidy is restless, moving from narrator to narrator; nearly all the major characters get his or her own section, all in first person (except, shrewdly, for a chapter about Simon before he found his voice, narrated in third). As a result, the novel often feels like it’s stopping and starting; halfway in, readers may think the main narrative hasn’t even begun. But the voices and characters themselves are rich and varied—a reminder that plot, slavishly tended to, can result in stuffy prose. Here, Reidy has fun, and isn’t that sometimes the raison d’être for clear, familiar premises? The more solid the outline, the more fun it is to color outside of it.
Better appreciated as an energetic parade of characters and voices rather than a straightforward narrative.