A rambling novel about an unpleasant crew taking their inside jokes abroad.

CHUCK LIFE'S A TRIP

Seven friends set off on a raucous 12-week journey around Eurasia in Fellman’s debut novel.

Twenty-something Johan Felmanstein and his six friends form a tight-knit micro-community, complete with their own slang called “ROAST” (for “Result of a Small Town”), specific to Livermore, California (or “L-town”). “Gettin’ D,” for instance, is getting drunk; “lollin’ ” is smoking weed. Jonah’s partners in crime include Mason McKinney, ginger-bearded and often stoned; Tim Frazelli, who has a pet squirrel; Tim’s brother, Sebastian, who gets ill-considered tattoos; Bert Thompson, who adopts a fake Irish accent when he travels; Kip Zakynthos, who repeatedly gets his teeth whitened; and Chuck Sunday, who possesses the unique ability to lounge in any location. Since they were teens, they’ve loved to drink and get high together, and now that they’re older, they’ve added travel to the mix. (They call themselves “the Chucks,” after their most leisurely member, and refer to their traveling lifestyle as “Chuck life.”) They’re about to embark on a three-month journey across Europe and Asia: “for a group of hoodlums from a small town in the States, eighty-five days, fifteen countries, and two continents is a big deal,” narrates Johan. As they jet from place to place—getting drunk, chasing sex workers, and saying words like “gaht,” (“comrade”), “grooge” (“go”) and “garnk” (“not all that great”)—the boys get to know each other in ways they never have before. They’ll get back home with stronger bonds and a greater sense of the world—if they don’t get each other killed along the way. The ensuing trip features some memorable bits of incidental partying in romantic locales, as when the boys sample absinthe while listening to a Roma band in Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. However, the work fits firmly into genre of “fratire”; the guys are boorish, profane, homophobic, misogynistic, and motivated purely by hedonistic instincts. What’s more, their ROAST slang—reminiscent of Nadsat from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, but less interesting and entirely too pleased with itself—makes every conversation difficult to get through: “ ‘You have been kinda garnk,’ I said. [Bert said,] ‘I know. I just hella feel like my relationship with my other friends in L is gettin’ ’em. Fools respond mad to my emails.’ ” Fellman writes in a preface that the novel is based on a real trip that he and his friends took in 2006, and it shows, as it doesn’t have the sort of narrative arc that one expects from fiction. Instead, it feels much more like the sort of protracted bar story that one of the boys might tell back in Livermore—where, Jonah implies, they and their exploits are already legendary. The author attempts to make Jonah and his friends seem cool, but everything about the book, from the preface to the 20-page appendix about ROAST, feels showy and forced. It all feels like a throwback to an earlier era, in the least pleasant way.

A rambling novel about an unpleasant crew taking their inside jokes abroad.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9995162-9-4

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Russian Hill Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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