In Young’s debut novel, a fugitive writer works feverishly to document his life before his past catches up to him.
For three days Paul sits on his fire escape overlooking the busy streets of New York City, jotting down an account of his life from his humble beginnings to what he sees as his coming end. The overly self-aware Paul has several reasons to be here: He’s found little success as a poet, the woman he loves has left him, and his aimless wanderings have led him to cause, or at least feel responsibility for, the death of a fellow citizen. While these things weigh heavily on Paul, the catalyst for his manic scribbling is merely that he’s been recognized; he’s not Paul, but rather a fugitive man of many names. He writes now of his first identity as Sam, a fatherless Holden Caulfield in the Connecticut suburbs whose annoyance with anything he finds empty or hypocritical takes a violent turn. Young’s debut crosses mediums, utilizing poetry, playwriting and a loose, stream-of-consciousness style that compliments the prose, conveying the urgency and fatigue Paul experiences. This blend can also be distracting, breaking the heavy tension the author establishes with his protagonist’s unique, darkly comic observations of the mundane and the mortifying. The novel can make readers uncomfortable, and doesn’t shy away from the obscene while humoring its unreliable narrator—even when he’s presented as self-centered and detached. Nearly every relationship in Paul’s life has some sexual undertone—from his best friend to figures in the church to his own mother—further magnifying the unnerving atmosphere. The narrator’s verbose style works both for and against the novel: It captures a personality enchanted with words but unable to truly connect with language, a wannabe-wordsmith “trying too hard.” However, as important as this consistency is, its continued use becomes tedious as some of the book’s more impressive flourishes are lost in the shuffle.
Disturbing and consistent in tone, yet too often weighed down by opaqueness.