Wannabe writer gets sidetracked from the literary life by the Internet ’90s.
Goodwillie’s fresh and invigorating debut opens at Kenyon College, where his half-baked writerly dreams are unexpectedly derailed when he winds up as the star of the little school’s previously DOA baseball team. Come graduation time, he’s being scouted by the majors. When that doesn’t work out, it’s off to the Big Apple, where he hopes to get a little of what he’d gone to Kenyon for: “the lure of a literary existence.” He finds a bunch of his old friends; a job as a private investigator researching Mafia shakedowns in Chinatown; an on-again, off-again coke habit; and a Cuban roommate named Gus who works as a press agent for Mayor Rudy Giuliani but somehow knows more about the literary world than Goodwillie does. The book unfolds like the life of many casting-about recent grads: in fits and starts, demarcated by new jobs and new relationships, strung together in a haze of bars. The author moves, by luck and accident, from being a private investigator to writing catalogue copy for a sports-memorabilia auction house to working as a sports researcher at Sotheby’s (“holding pen for the unmarried children of well-known families”). Then he joins a succession of high-flying Internet startups, and we feel the steam gathering for the millennial explosion of irrational exuberance. Goodwillie tries to hang on to his literary dreams, publishing an investigative piece here, a short story there, rooming with an apocalyptically depressed screenwriter. But mostly, he just gets sucked into the fantasy of easy money. When the collapse finally comes, he has the sense not to wallow in self-pity, relying instead on a congenial tone of self-mockery and smart, finely tuned storytelling.
A memoir of bilious excess, related with humor and just the right amount of acidic sadness.