A dot-com millionaire with an analytical mind and crippled maturity clumsily negotiates the minefields of adult relationships.
Whether you blame Nick Hornby, Junot Díaz or Tom Perrotta, they’ve collectively inspired a rash of novels whose main characters are dyed-in-the-wool SOBs. Such is the case with this earnestly written portrait of a cad by debut novelist Roth. It may also say something that the novel starts with a badly timed, Ecstasy-inspired romp and ends in a strip club. Our nominal hero is Eric Muller, a tense, gifted programmer who hit it big with a bit of popular software. He has the serious hots for Maya Marcom, a journalist who’s just old enough not to buy into Eric’s bullshit moves. Threaded through the story are flashbacks to Eric’s childhood, complete with an embarrassing adolescent incident in which his journal, marking observations about his female classmates, fell into enemy hands. Less embarrassing and more painful is Maya’s stern confession that her father, Donald, molested her regularly as a child. But something strikes Eric as odd about her story, and he tracks down her father in California to hear both sides of the forlorn tale. His obsession with her clearly painful past leads to a showdown over the veracity of memory and the fragility of loyalty. Roth tries to mitigate some of Maya’s angst with a weak subplot about Eric’s entrepreneurial father and his get-rich-quick schemes, but it never quite gels. Eric is also something of a philosopher without a philosophy, which leads to lines like this one: “We hang here long enough to etch the moment onto the surfaces of our brains, so that in every one of the infinite possible futures we will each be able to remember exactly what the other looked like in the moment right before we started kissing, when we had no inkling of the world of trouble to come.” No pressure or anything.
The messy story of a guy neither bad enough to be evil, nor good enough for redemption.