In Evans’ most recent novel, Damien Wood and his expat friends discover that humanity is a fragile thing, especially when held up against the vicissitudes of a generally uncaring universe.
Told largely, though not exclusively, as a collection of second-person journal entries and blog posts, the novel follows Damien’s life through the first few years of the 2000s, with occasional flashbacks to his teen years and sidesteps into other, tangentially related issues. Despite several achievements in his life, including success as a writer and spoken-word artist, Damien is progressively isolated from his loved ones and from himself, and he searches for a connection via frequent travel, alcohol and an increasingly agitated series of relationships with women. By the time Damien ends up in Cambodia, drinking nearly nonstop, he’s been driven to distraction by his latest female companion and seemingly endless visa issues. Events line up for a darker turn. As befitting the rapid, cross-platform nature of Damien’s work and lifestyle, Evans tells the story in a rapid mishmash of stylistic devices, including poetry, fake technical instructions and shifting typographic standards, while keeping the story moving breathlessly forward. The effect becomes wearing in the middle of the narrative, but Damien remains an engaging, witty character from beginning to end. The more grandiose effects are grounded by the reader’s natural sympathy for Damien, the hapless protagonist. Evans also effectively uses cultural indicators to evoke the time period without dating the material, even though references to MySpace come perilously close to bucking this trend. Readers who approach the narrative with suspicion about the central metaphor—which is understandable, given the nearly clichéd nature of the “technology dehumanizes us” trope—will likely appreciate the dexterous subtlety Evans employs to underline the theme through actions rather than baldly declaring it in dialogue or exposition.
Despite a flurry of stylistic flourishes, a cleareyed character study emerges, brimming with warmth and sympathy.